Mirwais: “I saw Daniel cut his veins with a cutter on stage as the opening act for Talking Heads”

Mirwais: “I saw Daniel cut his veins with a cutter on stage as the opening act for Talking Heads”
Mirwais: “I saw Daniel cut his veins with a cutter on stage as the opening act for Talking Heads”

You published your first novel last year: The Almighty. This year, you tell the story of the group Taxi-Girl. Why writing?

First of all, I am passionate about literature. I read quite serious things like Nietzsche, I read Burroughs (The Naked Feast), Borges, Freud, Marx, Aristotle, Selby, Jr., Albert Cohen. I also liked James Ellroy in the 80s, even if I’m not a big fan of dark series. Daniel and Laurent, on the other hand, loved it. The album Seppuku immersed himself a lot in this type of book, like Raymond Chandler for example. For my part, I’ve been writing since the end of the 90s. Lyrics, of course, but that wasn’t enough. I didn’t want to publish what I was writing before, because I was busy with other things. This was the moment. It will be a trilogy. I am not the most famous person in the world, far from it, my journey, on the other hand, I think, is very rare in the history of music. I went from being a cursed group in the late 70s and found myself at 38 at the end of the nineties, where it was happening, then making the switch with Madonna and the absolute star system. I experienced failure, crossing the desert… I found it interesting to tell this in literary form.

James Ellroy: “Little books are for idiots”

So we’re going to start with Taxi-Girl. The group is created at high school… Who meets first?

I was at the Mallarmé high school, rue de la Jonquière in Paris, like Stéphane. The others were in Balzac. I meet Pierre, we form the group together. Before Stéphane, Laurent and Daniel joined us, they had a competing “Sex crime” group, I think. Everyone was trying everything back then. It was Laurent who gave the impetus, he was very energetic, flamboyant and had a great style when he played.

For your part, how did you start playing guitar?

By chance, at 12 years old. In high school, a guy from Mallarmé played it. I was like, damn, this is great. At the time, there were no tutorials. The courses were very expensive. I had absolutely average technique, but I think that on the other hand, I had a lot of style and ideas.

What were you looking for through music?

The counterculture. I absolutely did not want to participate in French society. This is explained by the fact that I come from Afghanistan, and that I arrived in France at six years old, I think. Jimi Hendrix said: “I come from the planet Mars”. I wonder if that didn’t influence me. I have kept unforgettable memories of my country of origin. We all lived as a family with 8,000 meter mountains in the distance. These are dizzying landscapes, even when I returned there in 2011. There was nothing, but I had a family from whom I was torn away. And I found myself in the 18th arrondissement of Paris. Initially, I was told it was for three or four years, we never came back. I wasn’t a migrant, eh, I had refugee status, my father was a high-ranking civil servant and lost all his property, he experienced bankruptcy, that’s right. I am very sensitive to what is happening at the moment in Gaza.

You explain in the book that the silence of the family apartment felt like death. Guitar riffs were used to overcome boredom and death?

My father gave up his career. Very strangely, I never understood why… I think it’s for my mother. Then, they decided to open an Afghan clothing store, it worked well at first. And me, in the middle of all that, I was bored… That’s why I switched to the guitar. There were a few family elements that made the situation become unbearable. I had to escape. I couldn’t concentrate on studies, there were too many problems. I got kicked out of three high schools. So I did something artistic, it made me feel alive. When I started playing guitar, that was all I had. My dream was to play in a band. When we formed Taxi-Girl, I was 16 and a half, maybe 17.

Daniel Darc, singer of the group, also grew up in a traumatized family. His grandmother was gassed, his mother shaved by the Germans during the Liberation. Did he cut his veins at 16?

I never saw him cut his veins in front of me at that time, but I saw him the next day, yes. And then, on stage, at the Palace, to my left, I saw Daniel cutting his veins with a cutter in the first part of Talking Heads, there was so much blood that we stood back… Is it that it was linked to the past? He was born in 1959, 14 years after the war. It was very, very close though. In addition his father didn’t speak, he was a furrier, therefore proletarian, I think he was a bit of an alcoholic, all these traumas were not treated psychologically… It inevitably leaves traces.

His discomfort also resided in the fact of not having come out?

Yes, he explained it himself. It had very high latency. He had this sensitivity and he couldn’t accept it, so there was a huge conflict within him, this kind of ambivalence for a very long time. Although I think he was bisexual, because he genuinely loved the women he was with.

You mention numerous quarrels between members of the group and with others. Like this day when Daniel Darc threw a pizza in the head of singer Pierre Billon, for free, on RTL. Was it unmanageable?

I think it was Pierre Billon, yes. It was impractical… I think that rock groups, those of the 60s in any case, even the Stones, the Beatles, were places of rivalries, of people who opposed each other, from the start. It’s a story about alpha males… Nobody liked this group and I think I had the “lead”. I had projects, I forced them to rehearse because our concerts weren’t really perfect… I was always in the “okay, let’s do” attitude. To understand the mindset of others, you have to think about crazy people, like Kanye West, who think that everything they do is great. When Kanye West goes to Glastonbury to cover Queen, he can’t sing without autotune…

Does the cover photo bear the marks of this violence?

Pierre and Daniel fought the day before, there are still marks on their faces. That’s why I chose it. Pierre René-Worms followed us, like everyone else at the time. I took it, too, because it really represented who we were. We clearly find this feeling of the group emerging from nothing. I also needed to show that we were a modern band, even if it’s old.

Mirwais (left) on the cover of Taxi-Girl. ©Pierre René-Worms

In Taxi-Girlyou explain that the others wanted to fire you?

We were in a hysterical system, it was a bit sacrificial. To continue, someone had to be burned. That’s why Taxi-Girl was very interesting, I think it was true, because there was this animality, this wildness. It was tragic but there was a kind of warmth in this group. We were struggling, it was life, it was the wild nature of life. Stéphane was fired. I was quite friendly with him, we supported each other in our refusal to plunge into the hysteria and delirium of the other three. I was the one who gave the signal to fire him. It was a mistake. In my defense, I was young.

You quit drugs faster than others. For what reasons ?

Getting on stage was a revelation. And suddenly, I didn’t need the drugs. I was skinny too. You had to be strong, casually, to handle that, there are metabolisms that don’t hold up. I had bad trips. And then, I didn’t have any backup for myself: the others lived with their parents, which unfortunately allowed them to get more high. Rock (the drummer, died of an overdose in July 81, Editor’s note) was just someone who was trying, exploring drugs. He would certainly have calmed down. It was a tragedy.

What traces have you left with Taxi-Girl?

I think we’ve made the transition to truly modern music: synthpop, darkwave, post-punk. I think Daniel didn’t understand that. He wanted to do a punk band because I think he wanted to test his testosterone. Daniel, he was talking about the Stooges, “rock is dangerous”, but listen to how he sings. We understood that and I think Taxi-Girl was the best possible synthesis for him. We were very rock on stage and we understood that production was very important. It was more subversive than doing “only” French punk. We also “founded” Virgin in a metaphorical way. They wanted to sign us, we did a “label deal”, and from this “label deal” came Virgin’s first successful international production: “Paris Latino” by Bandolero is on our label. We gave the air call which allowed Virgin to attract the other artists. Telephone, the Rita Mitsouko arrived later. I explain with great sadness that French music took off without us…

Before returning to the forefront thanks to electronic music, you experienced a journey through the desert after Taxi-Girl. I imagine it was complicated to manage…

Especially since we were scammed. This is why a passage in the book is called Top management. I know a lot about scams. Human savage nature is appalling when it translates into the field of art, when some people steal rights, use themselves. It’s unforgivable to ruin careers like that. Because, if we made music, it was because we were depressed. We didn’t like the company. Despite the violence, we were mostly human. You see, I still have rage today.

You finally branched off into electronic music. You then sign with Naïve and leave Production, before working with Madonna. How does this collaboration come about?

When I signed with Naïve, because I had Disco Science, Frédéric Rebet also wanted me to sign a license with Sony independent network. However, I wanted an American label different from Sony. It turns out that I had a friend Stéphane Sednaoui who had become a video star. He had directed a music video for Madonna and he knew her manager. I sent my music to Maverick Records, his label, because Prodigy was there. I think I was closer to Prodigy than Daft Punk. It was more rock. As a result, the manager really liked it and passed it on to Madonna. She said : “That’s exactly what I’m looking for.” She was working on the successor album to Ray of light with William Orbit. She finished 12 tracks, so I jumped in and finally drove the album. She absolutely wanted to do Disco Science. Me, I was more into electro-folk at the Don’t Tell Me. This is where the concept of the cowboy was born that everyone took a liking to. Including now with Beyoncé. Cyber-folk actually. In the end, I didn’t sign with her label, but, on the other hand, I worked with her…

How do you judge the current music industry?

There are two states. The extent of the market is magnificent, wonderful, democratic. It’s better than before. In the 80s, the third world did not have access to quality music. I’m firing on all cylinders on Spotify, YouTube and co but not for the quality of the service, it is for the remuneration of the artist that we will have to improve. Niche artists, everyone who wants to make good music and be independent, earn nothing. It’s become a rich person’s thing. It’s not the best that are on display. People who are brave make music, don’t prostitute themselves for nerds. At some point, if they don’t have a job on the side, or family money, they are forced to give up. Which explains why the level of music is very, very low. The artists who are successful are completely megalomaniac artistic directors. As in fashion, every three months, things change.

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