ISKCON leaders probably didn’t expect some of their biggest preachers to be playing earsplitting hardcore punk music, doing high kicks and hurling themselves offstage into a crowd of wild teenagers. But in the 1990s, Shelter inspired countless young people to take on a sattvic lifestyle and even join the Hare Krishna Movement.
Now, with many hardcore bands from the time being asked to do reunion shows, Shelter – including singer-songwriter Raghunath Das (Ray Cappo) and guitarist Paramananda Das (Porcell) will be appearing for a string of dates in the U.S. and Europe.
The band will be playing material from their most popular album, Mantra, and their preceding records Perfection of Desire, Quest for Certainty and Attaining the Supreme. Fans will be able to see them in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Berkely, and San Diego, as well as in European countries like Belgium, Prague and Berlin this summer.
After a blistering set of hits like “Here We Go Again” and “Civilized Man” at last year’s This is Hardcore Fest in Philadelphia, in which Shelter proved they haven’t lost any of their raw power, audiences are in for a treat.
New youth who are just discovering Shelter today are expected to the shows, as well as fans from back in the day.
Shelter, of course, originally emerged from the ashes of Raghunath and Paramananda’s previous band Youth of Today, which popularized the straightedge movement of vegetarianism, abstinence and clean living in the 1980s.
“Although we were straightedge, I felt a calling to improve my life even more,” Raghunath says. “Because to really advance in spiritual life, you have to go deeper than just being good – you have to become a transcendentalist. So I quit Youth of Today and went to India. I actually wrote what would become the first Shelter record as my goodbye to the music scene.”
But when Raghunath began studying Krishna consciousness, senior devotees like Tamal Krishna Goswami and Ravindra Svarupa Das instead encouraged him to use his considerable influence in the hardcore scene for good, and continue performing – only in a more spiritualized way.
Flying high – Shelter in the early days
So in 1991 Raghunath and his bandmates formed Shelter, delivering deep philosophical concepts about non-violence, humility, empathy, the power of the maha-mantra, and the futility of material relationships, all wrapped up in thrilling hardcore music.
While playing shows every night, they lived in the brahmachari ashram, strictly adhered to the practices and regulations of Krishna consciousness, and kept themselves under the care of senior devotees to make sure they didn’t get swept away in the current of fame.
“It was a really weird experiment, because we were probably the first celibate rock ‘n’ roll band to tour the world,” Raghunath says.
With the built-in fanbase from Youth of Today, and both Raghunath and Paramananda’s legendary status in the hardcore punk world, Shelter had a large following from the get-go.
After a headlining tour around North America, they were signed by one of the biggest independent labels in the world, Roadrunner, home to major acts like Sepultura. They toured around the world, and with Mantra, had a hit record, achieving commercial success especially in Latin America. In Brazil, Shelter’s video for “Here We Go Again” hit #1 on the MTV Top 20 Countdown for three weeks in a row, and they found themselves signing autographs for hundreds of clamoring youth.
The cover of Mantra, Shelter’s biggest hit record
After their last record, “Eternal” in 2006, Shelter disbanded and both Raghunath and Paramananda became yoga teachers, continuing to use their talent for inspiration to connect people with the path of bhakti.
But the impact they made with Shelter continues to live on. “Last year, we had a Krishnacore reunion in Philadelphia,” Raghunath says. “I didn’t know what to expect, but it almost brought me to tears. There were initiated devotees there from all over the world – as far as Australia and Italy, Peru and Brazil – who had come to Krishna consciousness through our shows.”
Now, new people are getting to hear Shelter’s message.
“Oftentimes, when we distribute books on the street, people don’t want to speak to us, because they think, ‘Who are you?’” Raghunath says. “But when they’re actually paying money to hear from you at shows, you’re in a great position to give people something valuable, in a situation where they’re receptive to it.”
U.S. dates this year
So far there are no plans to record a new album or tour beyond this year’s reunion shows. But hopefully seeing Shelter again will remind everyone how important their message is – now more than ever – and inspire people to make a difference in their own lives and those of others.
As Raghunath sings in “Letter to a Friend: “We’re gonna make that change/We’re gonna set this world, this world on fire.”
“Shelter was a special time historically for us to do some service; to create art in the form of music,” Raghunath says. “It was a time for us to speak Srila Prabhupada’s message in a way that allowed people to hear it more easily, and to re-introduce them to what real love is.”
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