Shelter Boy might be considered a newbie to the music scene as a profound solo artist, yet he surely does not happen to be an unfamiliar face to the indie scene. Before Simon Graupner started writing and releasing his very own music under the telling moniker that is Shelter Boy, he primarily identified as the guitar player of Still Trees, a band delivering melodic, as well as, euphoric brit and surf rock for almost ten years. Whereas his main band allowed him to gently grow into the role of a musician, he soon learned to raise his voice by also contributing vocals to the songs of Still Trees. Apart from both artist names’ sharing a slight ambiguity in terms of their meaning, they remarkably differ in style.
In fact, Simon’s new chapter as a self-conscious solo artist, which he started two years ago with the release of his debut single Half Asleep writes a different, much more personal story. It emphasizes the rise of potent musician who grows as his discography expands. Half Asleep as a debut single appeared programmatic as to what we could expect from Simon in the following two years. In spite of audible traces harkening back to the charming surf rock of former days, his current musical output unveils 23-year-old Simon as a pop aficiando, whose jangle-guitar infused sound tells personal stories that oscillate between the carrying a heavy heart while living with a jauntily mind.
A different take on Take On Me
With his second EP Rock’n’Roll Saved My Childhood (lel) released early in 2020, Graupner embarked on his first proper tour that saw him play twelve dates across Germany throughout January and February. This month, he will be supporting rising Norwegian dream pop songwriter Boy Pablo on three nights in Cologne, Berlin, and Hamburg. During his live shows one can grasp best, that Simon’s art as a solo artist is more than the sum of its parts. Although, he is at the beginning of a new career, there are already dedicated youths following him around attending several shows, dressing up flamboyantly to show that they are part of Shelter Boy’s “squad”. Meanwhile, on stage, Simon and his band sound even dreamier with live vocals reminiscent of King Krule.
Simon entering the stage after roaming through the audience in front of the stage, is almost reminiscent of the Take On Me video clip by a-ha, but taken vice versa. Here, it is not Morten Harket luring his audience into a blurry word of black and white; it is the protagonist leaving the self-shot, stylistically gritty video clips only to enter a brighter reality and experiencing relief as we will later learn. So, there he stands, wearing the same iconic clothes as well as facial expression, spreading a certain feeling of togetherness. It is, as if he was telling us: ‘I am here only to play for you guys. These songs are giving me shelter and hopefully they mean the same for you tonight’. Indeed, Simon is able to use his performance in order to create a bond between himself and the audience where friendship and diversity do not appear to be an aspiration but are actually practiced.
Aiming for creative freedom
After performing a strong 90-minutes set in Cologne that culminated in the rendition of a brilliant cover version of the Simple Minds classic track Don’t you (forget about me), Simon tells the audience that this is everything he has been dreaming of since he was twelve. Keeping in mind that he has been active as a musician for a decade now, this statement might seem odd at first. However, working as a solo artist provides Simon with full artistic freedom: “Now I can make all the decisions myself and do all the creative work on my own. I can fully implement my ideas.” It turns out, that being independent was a main goal for Graupner to achieve. Being asked what he would tell his twelve-year-old self today, he says “do whatever you like!”.
Watching Shelter Boy perform live also brings surprises. First, it is ambitious to play a full 90-minute set when you got only two EPs and a handful of singles released to date. Second, the sheer playfulness and vivid interaction of the four-piece live band is striking. Shelter Boy brings us cheerful/melancholic dream pop in the likes of Mac DeMarco, but he is not simply an epigone at all. In fact, his sound appears more nuanced. Want a rougher approach to his debut EP Mirage Morning? Well, just make sure to listen to its accompanying Home Recordings available on Spotify. Pale Ocean Child off his latest EP is probably more Mac DeMarco than ever, whereas the catchy-as-hell chorus of the closing track Clean Sheets / Blank Page draws on pop sensibilites. It is no surprise though, that Simon himself struggles to define his sound as a solo artist. “I still don’t know. But I always want it to keep changing,” he explains.
A solo project of pure personal dedication
Maybe it helps to explain why there are still moments of total surprise during the band’s live show. One would expect them to cover current dream or surf pop artists or genre classics such as the Beach Boys, Simon clings to the 80s classic Don’t you (forget about me) by Glasgow’s Simple Minds. Then again, he remarkably steps aside to let his bass player take over the centre stage only to end the show with a Beatles cover. When asked about his idols and influences on his solo sound, Simon mentions ‘The Beatles, Oasis, Stone Roses, J Dilla and Bob Dylan. However, each release is a record of where I am at that point in time. Everything about me is in my music.” Thus, Shelter Boy is Simon Graupner. It is a solo project of complete personal dedication.
While I am chatting with Simon about his approach to composing music as a solo artist, it becomes obvious that he clearly differentiates between his role as a songwriting artist and his role as a performing artist. “My live band has no influence on my songwriting,” Simon explains, “everything that takes place in the studio first happens in my mind. Yet, the role of the band is extraordinary. They help shape the live sound of Shelter Boy so that it turns out as one insane rock ‘n roll show,” he further on confesses. Still, Graupner highlights the personal note that applies to writing songs as opposed to simply performing them.
“The two things are fundamentally different, to be honest. Songwriting is an exhausting matter and can be psychologically challenging. Once the writing is done, playing live is more of a relief, then.”
The Simple Minds are right
When it comes to the creative cosmos of Shelter Boy, there is more to it than just the music and the live performance. Simon is involved first hand in the production of the video clips that contribute to a visual aesthetic connected to the artistic value of Shelter Boy, as well. A second constituent emphasising the creative appeal of Graupner are his collages that he sells online and on tour. Like in his music and live performance, one productive element of the prints is their eye for the unexpected, merging well-known motifs to create something new and unique. But this is not the end of the story, yet. “I would like to design my own clothes someday,” Simon unveils, “and write my autobiography.” He laughs. As a first step, however, he wishes to establish himself as a solo artist so that he can consider it his profession, too.” I cannot imagine doing something else for a living’, he states.” His career does, therefore, not only include working hard but also dreaming. Is there anything he wishes for? “I would love to play Glastonbury one day. It’s one of the reasons why I started making music,” Simon notes.
With his intuition for terrific pop tunes appealing to an international audience, the dreams and wishes of the Dresdener musician may well come true one day. But for now, here is the newly released video clip to his track Back at the Bottom. The video to the upbeat single, is a collection of photographs gathered on the artist’s trip to Greece. Feeling uneasy about having a good time in Athens, while people on the islands are suffering, the artist comments, ‘This world is a fucked up place in so many different ways at the moment. I hope that at least I can give love within my music to some people because that is all I ever wanted to do.’ Catch Shelter Boy’s on his tour supporting the Norwegian indie artist Boy Pablo. Shelter Boy is surely an artist that will not disappear from our radar anytime soon. See, the Simple Minds are right.
Shelter Boy‘s new EP Rock’n’Roll Saved My Childhood (lel) is out now via Majestic Casual.
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