Client Liaison: Appropriation, Misogyny, Scones

by Jake Cleland

Where were you born?

Harvey Miller: Royal Melbourne Children’s Hospital, 22nd May, 1988

Monte Morgan: I was born in Melbourne, I can’t remember which hospital, in 85.

What do you remember about your younger years?

HM: Just a few jaded memories. I’ve gotten to the point now where I don’t know if I’m projecting these memories of my childhood or not. But mostly, happy childhood. No trauma. No heart-wrenching story to base my life on. Happy upbringing.

What sorta stuff were you into?

HM: Somewhat typical. Snowboarding, action sports. Brief stint in wrestling. On Sundays the wrestling would play on Foxtel, and then when I found out it was fake, it was like finding out Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy is fake. You get out of it. Skateboarding and snowboarding.

Where’d you go boarding?

HM: Mt Buller.

What about you Monte?

MM: I spent a lot of time in my bedroom, imagining things. Play scenarios, play in your head, play with your toys. I had these soldiers and I’d build cool battlefields. And I also had this game with my brother, like Warhammer. It was a roleplaying one so you’d each have one character and my brother would write a story for us, and there’d be three of my friends and he’d be the storyteller. We could say anything, do anything we want, and he’d put dice-

Like a D&D thing?

MM: Yeah, it was cool. Skiing, I grew up skiing. I used to love doing plays with my friends for my parents and my parents’ friends. We’d be on holiday or they’d come over one night, sit around drinking, and we’d go up and organize a play for the parents. We’d do our own videos, we had our own video camera.

HM: I’ve got a photo of you guys all playing on some old computer.

MM: Yeah, one computer and you’d all gather round.

When’d you guys meet?

HM: At Glamorgan [the Toorak campus of Geelong Grammar], in primary school. Monte was in Geordie’s year. Geordie’s my brother. Monte’s remained friends with Geordie and that ties into how Client Liaison formed after school. I was looking for someone to sing and collaborate with and Monte was the first person I knew who could sing. So that, by proxy, fell into place.

What time was that?

HM: ’10? ’09?

Monte, what drew you to singing?

MM: I used to listen to a lot of Simon & Garfunkel and sing along. I enjoyed that. You get a bit of a high from singing, a physical… you feel free. Especially singing in a group. You lose track of time. I used to sing in the shower. I always loved performing and singing’s an opportunity to perform. School concerts and things like that. My parents would constantly coerce me towards musical instruments which I’d pick up for a few months and then forget about my lessons and get in trouble.

HM: What house were you in at Glamorgan?

MM: Mann.

HM: Yeah I remember for Mann house music you did ‘Buh-buh-buh-bora.’ Is that how it goes?

MM: Yeah it’s like a version of ‘Lola’ but a cricket team.

HM: Yeah you did the cricket version.

When’d you start writing songs?

HM: Our school had a great music program, but I was always like a jack-of-all-trades. I’d learn the drums for a bit and guitar for a bit, so I never mastered one instrument but could play everything poorly. Then in high school Geordie put Fruity Loops on the PC, and the great thing about Fruity Loops was it’d run on any PC. You didn’t have to have a fast computer, you could install it on anything, it was a cracked version, and it would work. Then I started learning that, which was a great insight into MIDI and sequencing and synthesizers, VSTs, not even knowing what a cut-off filter was, it was a great entry point to learning those skills. When I started Grade 11 I started playing with that. That helped culminate my sporadic knowledge of music into production. Learning everything poorly was a perfect situation for production. You take a bit of everything.

What’d you guys study at uni?

MM: I finished school and went to Melbourne Uni. More because I wanted to be in the city. I did Creative Arts, a half theoretical arts course and half creative writing, film, visual arts, theatre.

HM: Now defunct course but everyone speaks highly of it.

MM: Wasn’t that great.

Did they have good tutors or something?

MM: It didn’t really know what it was. I was there for six years for a three year course. I kept failing.

Why’d you keep failing?

MM: I was a bit of a wastoid. All I was into was really Prince and partying. So I used to just trawl the Prince forums for information and listen to Prince music and trade bootlegs and go to concerts if he’d come to Australia. Also I was into travelling as well. I went to India and Asia and Cuba, tried to go to exotic places. So I’d take some time off from school and go travelling. Then, my friend Lachie had a 16 track, we started recording with him. It was like ‘Whoa, this is awesome! You just layer stuff up! This is so much fun!’ That’s when I got into music.

Did you guys ever meet Prince?

MM: Aw, he’s brought me up on stage three times. Asked me my name, like ‘What’s your name, man?’ It’s not really meeting someone when you’re on stage.

HM: I was in a club in LA and I saw him like four years ago, from a distance. That was about it.

MM: He had an immaculate smell.

Harvey, what’d you study?

HM: I did a year of studying and then I went to VCA after that. Fine Art. I left half way through my last year. We had the Flight Facilities world tour. That was something I couldn’t really pass up, cruising around the world, playing your music.

MM: Harvey was struggling for time so he was handing in Client Liaison as schoolwork.

HM: I don’t regret leaving but it would’ve been good to finish it. Being there taught me a lot about how to research and approach projects, a great way to think, how to investigate ideas and expand them. It really helped in Client Liaison, because it’s a multisensory experience, Client Liaison. We like to investigate things not just through music but lyrics, subject matter, visually and all that. Being there and coupled with Monte studying Creative Arts really helped us in our approach.

Tell me about the first show you guys played.

MM: Our friend Oscar, funny guy, he had a one-piece party. He said ‘You guys have to play.’ We had two songs. It was a house party on Beaconsfield Parade, on the bay. Amazing party. We had a tiny little stage and tiny little keyboard. I think Harvey was playing a MicroKORG. Vocoder, actually! The party went off. The next party was also organised by this friend, he had an exhibition of photographs. Our production increased just slightly. Harvey had a video camera this time-

HM: On stage.

MM: As well as a keyboard.

HM: Playing on stage with the video camera actually filming.

So where’s this Oscar character now?

MM: He just returned from San Fran, he was working for a startup there. Now he’s at the university looking at like, any new idea.

HM: Startup culture.

MM: He’s a real people person, bringing people together, ‘Let’s change the system!’ He’s quite amazing.

HM: But he’s not buzzwordy or anything. He’s quite legit.

And how’d you meet Tom Tilley?

HM: I was living up in Sydney quite a bit, seeing my ex girlfriend, who’s a good friend of his. I was hanging out with Tom at parties and we needed a bass player for Like A Version, and Tom rocked in and his enthusiasm was highly valued. From there, we kept in touch. We brought him to Brisbane-

MM: For Flight Facilities.

HM: And it continued from there. Despite being very busy, he’s always available and down to be part of the band, so that worked quite well. Do we know any bass players off the top of our head?

MM: I think it was also ‘cos he was in Sydney as well.

Was he on hack at that point?

MM: Yeah.

‘Feed the Rhythm’ has a didgeridoo sample. I’ve read some essays by Indigenous writers who said playing the didgeridoo as someone who’s not an Indigenous person is cultural appropriation, and it’s particularly bad if it’s for commercial use. I’ve read some conflicting stuff about how maybe it’s good to play it to gain an understanding of the culture, but it seemed like the prevailing attitude was that.

MM: Yeah, we’ve been to that as well. Basically, we sought permission to play it on stage.

HM: Not from that instance. We’ve learnt that and come to that. But yeah, moving forward-

MM: When we play it live, we were giving a shout out to the traditional owners of the land. We actually got some amazing response from a couple of Indigenous people who were like, ‘This is incredible, the first time people are acknowledging Indigenous people in a live setting.’

HM: And then we had other people saying, ‘Oh, a white person playing the didgeridoo!’ And they were white people saying that. No Indigenous people saying that.

MM: But then we sought permission through Elders and also got in contact with people in Darwin. But the interesting thing is the people who’re saying it’s cultural appropriation, it’s not coming from the tribes the didgeridoo comes from. It’s coming from southern tribes. So it’s a bit confusing. But everyone has their view. To us it’s a musical instrument. We wouldn’t play any traditional rhythms, we play our own rhythms. I got taught by a guy from Byron Bay. To me, it’s music and it’s an instrument and it’s part of Australian culture as well as Indigenous culture.

HM: We start off with that sample in ‘Feed the Rhythm’, and we learnt a lot from that. We were like, ‘Okay, this is a process of learning.’ And then for our tour for the didgeridoo, we have a protocol for each place we play, to try and contact a local community and ask them for permission. The funny thing is, we struggle to contact anyone who would even give us a response. And when we did contact them, they’d say, ‘Yeah, that’s fine, uh, yeah, I guess you can? But I’m not the person to give you permission.’ There’s no gatekeeper in each community. But then if you go up north, they’re like ‘It’s all fine, totally!’ And if you go down south, it’s like, ‘Well, it’s a northern instrument.’ Every place you play, you can’t get your hall pass. When we played in Darwin we had some community members come down, we invited them to the show. You’ve just gotta do it with respect and context. That’s the best thing you can do. And not, as you described before, exploit it for monetary gain.

MM: Part of it is not engaging in the conversation as well. We’re not out there to reset the boundaries of who and what of appropriation.

HM: It’s a big wormhole. It’s like, neglecting other cultures from modernity, trying to keep them in a diorama-like museum display. Not to go down that rabbit hole and open a can of worms, but that’s not what we’re about. Look at rock music. That’s informed by blues, which is based on slavery. It’s entrenched everywhere. Look at famous voices of our generation, like Lena Dunham, who is siding with students of the last college she went to about poorly made sushi at the cafeteria, and how that’s cultural appropriation.

MM: Not the most healthy, enticing debate to get into.

HM: We just, at the end of the day, try to focus on what brings people and us together, rather than focusing on what pushes us and people apart. We try to sit on that point and not open the can of worms or go down the rabbit hole.

So do you guys do a Welcome to Country at your shows?

HM: No, but we acknowledge the community and area we play. We haven’t done that every time, it’s been a process of learning.

MM: Yeah, I looked up the Welcome to Country protocol and you’re meant to have an Indigenous person, so it’s not really our place. We can pay our respects in some way. And then, I’m not one to say what’s right and wrong, but it was nice saying, ‘Shout out!’ you know? ‘Respect!’ Not like, uh, [expects solemn voice] ‘We would like to…’ It’s like, let’s make this part of dance culture. No one’s mentioning it in that context.

HM: The way that acknowledgement at other proceedings we always see is very lump-in-the-throat, walking-on-egg-shells tone of voice that doesn’t feel engaging at all. It doesn’t reflect the context of what the situation may be. When people say, ‘I acknowledge the traditional owers…’ the tone they do it in makes it feel like- it doesn’t really reflect the setting. When we acknowledge the traditional owners or play an Indigenous instrument, we try to have it reflect the context of a positive party. We have had feedback from Indigenous fans, on Facebook and at our shows. Big smiles. Enjoying that. We haven’t had negative feedback from any Indigenous people who’ve come to the shows. But we have had a couple of tweets from non-Indigenous people.

The video for ‘Feed the Rhythm’ was shot on Buller. Who’re the women in that video?

HM: They were friends of friends.

MM: Working the season.

What do they signify in the video?

HM: Oh, the snow bunny, I think, with the fur on their hat.

MM: We’re having a barbecue with them, it’s fun.

Do you think there’s an element of misogyny in using those women?

MM: We notice that a lot of those bands, they have supermodels. But for us, they’re always friends and friends of friends. We try to get people around us. For ‘That’s Desire’ we had those girls dancing around us, they’re all friends. There’s an element of sex in our music but it’s not highly idealized, and also, it’s sex on both parts. I take my top off on stage. We have feminine characteristics ourselves. And then women dancing. You could say it, but compared to a lot of stuff out there, we like to think there’s some layer to it. The idea of a snowbunny is a bit more interesting than just a hot girl in a bikini.

HM: Snowbunny, there’s nothing exploitative about it. Yeah, to say misogyny would be drawing the bow a little far. Look at the current climate of pop music. There are girls who’re 95% naked and in compromising situations. Look at rap videos. Compare that to snowbunnies in our video having a barbecue and eating cheese. Makes it sound like the video was shot in 1921 or something.

More misogyny in the sense of perpetuating a kind of male power.

HM: Looking at the video itself, there’s no symbolism of that.

MM: I don’t think we’d ever be like, if we needed a bass player and Tom Tilley was a girl, ‘Oh that’s not right.’ We actually wanted more females in our crew and our team and on stage. We wanna be inclusive. It’s not like, here’s the man and here’s the women. It just happens that the band is two men. The next two people were men as well.

Is it fair to say your music is influenced by disco and house music?

HM: Yeah, precisely. Dance music, again, with disco in the sense that it’s people playing instruments. The timing was perfect, the beats are fast. Technicality got there. And then later it became drum machines and sequenced sounds with instruments and the technology slotted in there after. House music, if you were to do a food pyramid of dance music, disco and house would be somewhere up the top.

Disco and house both have rich histories as music firmly entrenched in Black and Latino and gay communities. As we saw with the Pulse nightclub shooting, there’s still a lot of discrimination against gay dance communities. Given that Client Liaison’s music is influenced by that musical history, what do you do, or what do you think your music does, to pay respect to that history?

HM: Well, we participate. At our shows, Monte remembers a great moment during ‘Feeling’ where he saw two girls kissing in the middle of the dancefloor. We noticed that with our crowd and that demographic and we’re just proud to participate.

MM: I don’t know if Daft Punk would ever have that question. And I know one of Harvey’s major influences is Daft Punk and Cut Copy. So I don’t know. In Australia at least, there’s no negative connotations with playing disco and house. It’s seen as celebratory and bringing people together. We don’t feel like we’re derogatory to any people. Music brings people together. I got into disco, funk, house, not because of the social activism around it, and I think that’s an okay thing.

HM: Those things are linked to those cultures and we’re part of it, I guess. We make dance music. But it hasn’t informed… it’s not something we constantly remind ourselves, it’s just a fixed given that’s there.

Have you guys had lunch at Kirribilli house?

HM: No, but one thing I do wanna do is create a kind of bake-off for scone recipes for every Prime Minister’s partner. That would include the First Bloke. I want to get together a scone baking thing where each time you go into Kirribilli, the Prime Minister enters the residence, the partner of the house is challenged with their scone recipe, and it’s compared against every partner of the house. Each year, on a certain date that I haven’t picked yet-

Not January 26.

HM: Not January 26. Family members of that person come together and you cook-off every recipe, and then everyone votes for the best scone. Each time you leave the house, you leave your recipe. That’s something I wanna do at Kirribilli House and I’m not sure how.

Are you related to Scott Morrison by marriage?

HM: No, I’m not related to Scott Morrison.

Because I heard that and I was gonna say, that’d be a good way to get the scones in there.

HM: That’s the traditional Treasurer moving onto Prime Ministership. But I think Julie Bishop is next in line for that.

You guys have said that you try to remain apolitical with your stuff, which I found interesting because there’s a song on the album about Syrian refugees, so you guys are political to some extent. To me it seems like being apolitical is acquiescing to the way things are politically. What do you think about that?

HM: It’s just about not pushing an agenda or political point of view. We like to just look at the situation, talk about it holistically.

MM: Work in the world of mood and feeling and emotion. Not ‘This needs to be changed, this needs to happen here and there.’ We don’t think our art is a forum for that. Politics is pretty ugly, uninspiring. Diatribe of interwebbed arguments, that’s not much fun.

HM: And we don’t pretend to have the answers. We’re just responding to our knowledge and what we know. It’d be terribly ignorant to go on and pose an argument or say, ‘This is the situation!’ We approach it with sensitivity and openness. Try to focus on the emotion. That’s such a heavy situation itself, we don’t need to go in there and comprehend the whole situation. We can take one element or one person’s story, one article you read here or there, and you could write a whole album just about that. I always remember from art school, teachers would say, ‘If you know what you’re talking about exactly, don’t make an artwork. Write an essay.’ As artists, you don’t often know the whole issue, so you might explain it and express it in a different way. That’s why we make songs.

MM: The lyrics in that song were inspired by the boy washing ashore, because that was a pertinent situation of how bad it is in Syria, but also how the media skews everything, how that changes things because one boy looks particularly sad, but it is sad-

HM: The kind of guilt of looking at that and feeling sad, like ‘This is what it takes for my Western self to be emotional. I have to see this tragedy in this form to engage with it.’

MM: And it’s poetry, you know? “Is this really universal acclaim?” I don’t know what that means. But it just felt right. “Is this universal acclaim?” Is this right or this is wrong but is this really the answer these people needed? It’s a question. It can be direct. ‘Let the refugees in!’ But we’re not-

Not Midnight Oil.

MM: Yeah.

HM: Not to discount a call to action or someone’s decision to take a side in an argument, but sometimes it can feel one dimensional to just be pushing this one side of an argument. It’s not always that one dimensional. We probably wouldn’t have any issues taking a side of an argument. We like to have discussions, talk about ideas. Not just ‘This is this! That’s that!’ Black and white.

MM: That Reclaim Australia album, I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s powerful. That Like A Version, that was powerful. That’s not the way I express… I’m from a world where I’ve never been hurt. Privilege and that kind of thing. So it’s not my place to be saying those things. We wanna bring people together, we sing of empowerment and fun, and when we talk about politics. Harvey also says it’s the theatre of politics that we love. Talking about the scones and Kirribilli House. It’s the theatre around it that’s really interesting, not the particular policies week to week. They come and go.