By nature, he's a jack of all trades, by profession an architect, and by passion a musician, producer, and DJ unafraid to blend different musical cultures. Milan Stanković, the man behind the pseudonym SevdahBABY, talks about his childhood in the gloomy '90s, how music saved him from the crisis, and reveals how he became a musician who doesn't compromise at any cost in an interview for 011info.

You were born in Niš. What was your childhood like in southern Serbia?

I came into this world a few months before Tito passed away. I can say that the first decade of my life was relatively carefree, a perfectly normal childhood. My role models were my older brothers, who introduced me to cool things in life, from comics and music to socializing.

But then came the '90s, and I felt like I "faded away." The country's dissolution went hand in hand with advancing through school grades, and overnight, I became a bit of a forgotten child. While our family (my father was a hydro-engineer, and my mother a judge) was struggling through a severe economic crisis, others seemed to be thriving during those times.

That decade of darkness and financial struggle - I won't call it poverty because it was a state of mind - engulfed us and a significant part of Serbia. Even though we fought constantly, engaging in intellectual pursuits, we simply couldn't adapt to the '90s. This lasted until the mid-2000s.



What was your salvation during those grim years?

Music. I co-founded a band with two classmates when I was 13 years old. We were inspired by and tried to emulate the Seattle music scene. We desperately wanted to play songs by Pearl Jam or Soundgarden, but unfortunately, we weren't skilled enough for that. However, we did manage to play some Nirvana and a bit of Alice in Chains.

There were no cable TV or the internet back then, so we spent every free moment playing music. Fortunately, the bassist's family had a basement where we could practice without disturbing anyone. They were very tolerant of the noise, and I'm grateful to them for that.

So, even though we weren't aware of it at the time, music was definitely a lifeline during those years.



You weren't interested in popular turbo-folk music at the time?

Not at all. I've always found that genre of music to be crude and arrogant. Admittedly, I was a double agent. I listened to both metal and dance music. Later, I discovered The Prodigy, and I realized that everything could be combined into one type of music.

What was your first experience like when you came to Belgrade?

It happened in the "wonderful" year of 1993 when I visited my brothers who were studying in the capital. I stayed with my middle brother, who attended the Faculty of Music, majoring in viola on the string instruments' department. I really don't know how they were paying for that back then - I suppose they were using some reserves from better times. As for my first impression of Belgrade, it was freezing cold and depressing, infinitely so!

The second visit was a one-day excursion in the fall of 1995 and definitely improved my impression. The bus dropped us off at the Belgrade Fair, and the first thing we saw was a group of ravers with green-dyed hair. It was a real cultural shock because you couldn't see such people in broad daylight in Niš.

The next trip to Belgrade occurred during the summer of 1996, where I spent several weeks with my brother in a student dorm. That was the first time I felt the city's vibe, and it became clear to me that I envisioned myself as a student here.



Did you eventually study in Belgrade?

I did. I was fortunate to have the support of my parents for that. Even though the Faculty of Civil Engineering in Niš already had an architecture program, my mother insisted that it would be a shame for the best student in the family not to study in Belgrade. So, my great desire was fulfilled.

When I started studying at the Faculty of Architecture in Belgrade, I had the habit of not going back to Niš for six months, which was inconceivable for my colleagues, who spent almost every weekend at home. I made a clean break and decided to create a new life here. My mother raised us to be very independent. I viewed returning home as a weakness, a lack of discipline, and a retreat to a comfortable place. Besides, there was no money for frequent trips to Niš. Yes, I kept in touch with my closest family and friends, but that was it. Practically, I had no social life, solely dedicated to my studies.

When did music re-enter your life?

Somewhere around my second year of college. We brought a computer from Niš to my middle brother's apartment, where I spent my weekends studying music programs. During those years, I didn't make much progress in music because I spent too much time at the university. Towards the end of my studies, I had a crazy and amusing mantra: "Once I finish architecture, I can focus on music." And so it happened, but I needed to justify this transition financially because in my mind, architecture represented a stable and secure job.

During my studies, I became quite proficient in creating 3D models. Moreover, I earned a substantial income from it, especially for a student. After finishing university, I expected to earn the same or even more working as a junior architect. Oh, how wrong I was! I received embarrassingly low financial offers that left me completely disappointed.

I didn't want my parents to support me for another three years until I obtained my license, so I used that opportunity to turn to music. In the meantime, I rekindled my friendship with Ognjan Milošević, a friend from the music school in Niš. He soon became my roommate and opened the doors to the world of music for me. Impressed by my approach, he offered me a chance to compose music for Croatian soap operas, which I eagerly accepted.

At first, my mother couldn't believe how I could abandon architecture after studying it, but she eventually realized that I wouldn't give up on music. She accepted it as a fact and became my biggest support. So, I've been professionally involved in music since 2007, which is simultaneously a gift and a curse, especially when it comes to finances.



Did you preserve the first musical compositions you created?

I recently found a recording from 1997 with my high school band. When I listened to it, a bitter smile crossed my face because the whole song was produced at a very low level. By the way, that year, I realized I wasn't a "team player" and that I was far more creative as a solo artist.

Regarding the 2000s, unfortunately, I was undisciplined and unnecessarily modest, so I didn't archive my work. I simply didn't attach importance to these things, which I should have.

Apart from working on series, did you have opportunities to compose for films?

I did. In fact, there was an opportunity to create music for a Slovenian film called "Tu pa tam," and again, thanks to Ognjan, to whom I'm immensely grateful. It was a Tarantino-style movie that required an electronic soundtrack with Balkan samples. Unfortunately, it never made it to the big screen here, but it was a significant and valuable experience.


How did your music career progress from there?

I experimented quite a bit from the start. I prepared string arrangements for TV series, which I later incorporated into my song for the Beovizija contest in 2009.

There were also attempts to break into foreign markets. For instance, Bege Funk and I managed to sell a track in Australia under my pseudonym RawButt. In recent years, I had that youthful phase again – wanting to have a band. That was the VIDIQ project, which, unfortunately, didn't take off.

However, SevdahBABY was a big success, at least locally.


Is the focus still on the SevdahBABY project?

Absolutely. Over time, supporting members have changed, but the name and I have remained the same. However, until recently, there was a quiet period, a year where I didn't release any music. Unlike my French influences like Daft Punk and Justice, I don't select when to release albums; I release everything all at once. So, it's quite unusual that I haven't released anything for such a long time.

Honestly, I'm a little disappointed in society's current state. Even though I make pop music, which should inherently cater to the masses, I've never felt fully accomplished and appreciated. I still see myself as a kid who has yet to prove himself.

I think, for final recognition, I need to engage with something related to tradition because we are a people who look more to the past than the future. This was prompted by the fact that I made a breakthrough on Instagram with my cover of Toma Zdravković's song "Tužno leto," which I did in literally one afternoon.

You mentioned feeling unappreciated. Where does that impression come from?

I've always had a sense of self-worth and that of my collaborators. For instance, when my live band and I were at the peak of our popularity in 2010, with songs like "Ljubi me brzo, žurim," "3 poljupca," and my remix of "Kokete," we received an invitation to perform at Love Fest, which was just starting at that time. I asked for a decent fee for the three of us - Anette, Djixx, and me - not too high, not too low. But when they heard the offer, there was an awkward silence, probably some haggling followed. It's an understatement to say they didn't contact me again.

In the following years, there were quite a few disrespectful offers. For example, one year, we received an offer from Exit to perform for half the market-confirmed fee at the time, and with no soundcheck. I could only decline. They never called me again. Don't get me wrong, I never asked for the moon, just fair conditions for all of us. I've made enemies with many by taking this stance, but as I said, I held my ground for myself and my collaborators.



Nonetheless, after the hiatus, you released a single.

That's right, on September 1, I released the song "Lenj" (Lazy). In fact, I started working on it in May 2022, but, as the title suggests, I got lazy and couldn't finish the job. The plan was to release it in the summer, but certain commercial projects got in the way, so I postponed it to September 1, when everyone traditionally rolls up their sleeves and gets to work and learning.

The song itself has a strong concept. At first glance, it looks like an ordinary laid-back track, but at its core, it's a rebellion against forced labor and exploitation. We have a family tradition of resistance. I regularly read the memoirs of my maternal grandfather, Zlatomir Ilić, who was imprisoned first in the Red Cross camp in Niš and then in Mauthausen during the Second World War for his resistance against the Nazis.

In comparison to his experiences, I undoubtedly view all of this in our country as rather dramatic, but I can't escape the impression that we are globally and locally under some form of silent, insidious occupation, which is the worst kind. Once, people were bound by chains, and now it's violence covered by the veil of money, which relentlessly pressures individuals and families.

That's why I never mentioned money in my songs, which have been extensively exploited in lyrics in the past decade. Almost every song includes money as a concept. Personally, I aim to promote some of my values through a cool and funky approach. All of my songs are about love and hedonism, which should be commercially viable. Unfortunately, lyrics that avoid mentioning money, drugs, and violence can't compete in today's music scene.

After more than 20 years of living in Belgrade, what do you love about it?

I settled in New Belgrade, near the Danube. This area is very practical and healthy for living, but I'm somehow drawn to the center of Belgrade - its architecture, urban hustle and bustle, and atmosphere. At the same time, I equally enjoy the old part of Zemun, which is close by.

On the other hand, I notice that as I get older, I'm more inclined to occasionally go to Niš. I assume it's because of the benefits of modern times, where you can take your whole life with you using a laptop.