“Think nothing. Feel everything. Pleasure is good. Fantasy is truth.” These are the Client Liaison maxims, and Monte Morgan and Harvey Miller certainly embody them, from their energetic live show to the surrounds of their “HQ”.
It’s on the top level of a Collins Street building; one side houses racks of shiny costumes and framed newspaper pages which depict Bob Hawke and Warney in their primes, and the other is a mass of ceiling-high shelves bursting with document boxes. They’re all components of the fantasy: the adult world of the ’80s seems enchanting to someone born in that era because you were a child, looking up at the world. Boardrooms were as magical as bunyips.
On debut album Diplomatic Immunity, the stand-out track is a collaboration which brings together so many threads of the CL fabric (retro Australiana, camaraderie, unabashed pleasure): Foreign Affair, featuring Tina Arena. “Harvey came up with the ‘Sorrento’ lyric, and it was kind of an ode to Tina already,” Morgan smiles. “We started thinking about a duet. Tina came in and smashed it out in a couple of takes. She’s got a lot of conviction; very strong-willed, very amazing.” The song is gorgeous, snuggling into your head like a pet rather than an ear-worm, and that’s basically how Diplomatic Immunity works. The minimalist (for CL) Off White Limousine is a propulsive groove, as is the opener Canberra Won’t Be Calling Tonight (which features samples of a verbal stoush during Question Time).
At the back of the album’s booklet is a map, and each song is matched to a particular location. Foreign Affair sits in France – Tina’s second home – while Off White Limousine is charted on the west coast of the States (“The producer and songwriter live there as well,” says Morgan). Home is plotted against Melbourne, Where Do We Belong in the Red Centre, and The Bravest Beginnings in the Middle East. “It’s in Syria,” Morgan says. “The song’s about refugees, and people moving across borders – ‘borders they were born to break’ – so it’s influenced by the [things we’ve seen on] social media, and the mass migration of people.”
The pair assert their efforts to be “apolitical”, which has got to be a trying endeavour when your concept album touches on so many points of that spectrum. But they’re firm. “We don’t like to give too grandiose a statement about what we think is right and wrong,” Miller says. “We do struggle, after things like the Cronulla Riots, to show [pride] – it’s difficult. But we don’t pretend to have any answers. We try to put stuff out there and let people speak for themselves.” Morgan adds: “It’s nice to talk about Australia. When we were growing up, people pretended we weren’t Australia. America was everything. Then September 11 happened and things kind of flipped around. Hopefully we’re part of that conversation. Australia is a cool, crazy place.”
The Diplomatic Immunity booklet is a piece of art in itself. Beginning with an official-looking letter from Bill Hayden – who served as Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade from ’83 to ’88, and is a family friend of Morgan’s – the compendium includes all the album’s lyrics and several images of the guys, done up in an architectural render style. Morgan and Miller worked with artist Ilya Milstein in a dynamic process to get the scenes just right. “We started with these found images, [from] boxes here of my dad’s old market research stuff,” Morgan explains. “People in boardrooms and things. We did a photoshoot and planted ourselves in [the poses]. We’d look at the screen, line it all up. Then… we composited it together, and Ilya drew over the top of it digitally.” “It took a lot of effort,” Miller agrees. “I can understand why a band or an artist would not go through this. But we’re proud of doing it. It really deserves its own kind of ‘Making Of.’”
Diplomatic Immunity is out November 4 via Remote Control.