Text: Žikica Milošević, photo: Predrag Mijailović
It has been a while since the Belgrade band with the unusual and spontaneous name of Artan Lili began releasing singles and videos one after another, each better than the last. They quickly became a music sensation in the region and a concert attraction. Their videos tell tales and their lyrics are powerful. Here we speak to Romana and Bojan Slačala, the band’s two leading figures and joint lead vocals.
In our country it is as though time has stood still in music: we constantly recycle old forms and there are very few new ideas. However, Artan Lili has been able to offer a “new sound in town”. How difficult was that in Serbia and the former Yugoslavia generally? Is it difficult to “educate people musically”?
Romana: Some people have the ability to immediately recognise when something is good. When you’ve got a good offer, it quickly finds its consumer. There is no need to “educate”, but rather to selflessly share what we create. It is good, it is honest, and many have recognised that. However, there is another kind of audience that likes to recognise and not get to know, clinging blindly to old patterns. Tolstoy wrote somewhere that in order to love something you have to understand it. To love something you have to get acquainted with it and invest effort in that… Not all are enthusiasts, but I think we will reach out to those who are dormant at some point.
Bojan: What is interesting is that we are mostly accepted firstly by an “educated audience”, which of course is a minority, but that then represents the next step in expanding the educational impact of this. And so on and so on… That is a basic principle of spreading the underground culture that we also belong to. But it is a real struggle!
The band has also managed to position itself as both underground and mainstream. In a situation where that is rare, how can we return the situation at least a little – to, say, the ‘80s, when the underground was indeed the mainstream?
Romana: I think we should be open to all and not stick rigidly to the underground. And I think that this breadth is acquired with experience and with age, and a bunch of transcribed music. When you mature, you use that in the best way. As kids we were exclusive and uptight. When I was a kid, Talking Heads was lame for me, unlike Mudhoney. But this is probably a normal course of events.
Bojan: It would be better to build something new, modelled on a successful period. There is no way to return to the old way. We are trying to arouse the volatility of our creativity for many reasons, but perhaps the biggest reason is that we enjoy what we do.
Lyrics are very important to you, as the “set” for music, creating a complete impression. What is your message and who writes your lyrics?
Romana: Bojan writes the lyrics and that works very well. Seemingly banal, the texts do have depth and meaning and are very suggestive, both metrically and meaningfully. Often people tell us they identify with our songs. And that is no small thing.
Bojan: Lyrics have also been part of pop music composition from its beginnings. Rock’n’roll has at its essence rebellion and a desire for change, with the open expression of personal attitude. We havesuch love that we express through music. I usually write all the lyrics and I’m happy when the audience identifies with them, and they do so more if they have lived through them. So, honesty and directness make them convincing.
It is interesting that when you sing together the verses stay in feminine gender form. Where did you get the idea for the prevailing “feminine sensibility”, if that exists at all?
Romana: Haha. For me, I was all in the proper place; I sing in my gender. Bojan will have to explain it.
Bojan: Phenomenologically comical, but it’s my personal thing, i.e. men’s fate, to dare to write from the female point of view, in a personal way. That is a sensitive thing that works or does not work.
In the UK some new artists say that they rely on someone else’s sound and that is considered as paying homage to then. So, again, we have heard many comments that Artan Lili “is like Obojeni program”. Of course, your guitarist played in that band and this is logical and legitimate. To me this is just a plus. Does it make you feel weary?
Romana: I’m just concerned that people, in the absence of words and arguments, resort to good old comparisons with something that they are more familiar with. We all grow up under some influences, the same way we influence someone, consciously or unconsciously. I do not see anything bad in that. Another thing is copying, which we abhor.
Bojan: No. Dragan’s guitar is an integral part of the Artan Lili sound and our audience identifies it accordingly. All other information is part of his biography. We all know very well how important new songs are and the joy of their emergence is what brings us the most enjoyment and it is the most important thing for the band.
You have created the concept of releasing a single and a video every two months, and that is quite appropriate in an era where the album form itself has no special significance. Where did you get the idea and what can we expect from you next?
Bojan: Playing with the stereotypes of publishing strategy, which is a kind of arrogance allowed only in unconditional DIY aesthetics and tactics, we came up with the aforementioned model, which is successful, competitive and functional. We are very proud that we began releasing works in such a successive way, and that it was later accepted by many other authors,given that we were the first to do it both here and beyond.