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Tamar Aphek: "The first thing that captivated me about rock was all the kinds of distorted sounds you can get on a guitar"

Tamar Aphek
(Image credit: Adi Segal)

Having trained as a a concert pianist in Tel Aviv, Israel, from an early age, Tamar Aphek wasn’t exposed to rock music until she was 18. Then, when she put her career on hold to begin mandatory service in the army, she experienced an epiphany. 

While visiting a hip, local bar, she heard Radiohead for the first time. Impressed by the band’s experimental, multifaceted style, Aphek began a quest to learn more about the music she had previously avoided and was en-thralled by the raw guitar sounds of Sonic Youth, the Jesus Lizard and the Stooges.

“The first thing that captivated me about rock was all the kinds of distorted sounds you can get on a guitar,” Aphek says from her home in Haifa. “It was this big revelation. The distortion of Fugazi, Nirvana and Pantera, for example, are all completely different, and they all add their own elements to the music.”

Aphek scrambled to record stores and turned to friends for recommendations. She studied the nuances of classic rock, psychedelia, punk, metal, '90s alternative, indie rock, blues, jazz, electronic music and hip-hop. And she compared her favorite artists from different genres to determine how each used dissonance, dynamics and rhythmic variation to build and release tension and create presence.

Then she started playing guitar and formed the rock duos Carusella and Shoshana before becoming a solo artist. In 2014, she released the EP Collision; two years later she scored the award-winning film One Week and a Day.

With a wealth of experience to draw from, Aphek began writing her debut full-length, All Bets Are Off, a sonically diverse mélange of dusky music noir, freeform experimentalism and dissonant grit. Instead of adhering to her previous work ethic, she kept herself open to new avenues.  

Axology

• GUITARS
Fender Jaguar, Fender Telecaster, Gibson Les Paul

• AMPS
Marshall Super Bass, Fender Twin Reverb

• EFFECTS
OKKO Dominator, Catalinbread Topanga Spring Reverb, Boss OC-3 Super Octave

“I used to write guitar riffs and build songs about them,” she says. “But for this album I felt it was really important to improvise with the musicians I played with, which makes the songs more alive.”

Some critics have called Aphek’s music jazz ’n’ roll because of the spontaneous-sounding arrangements, angular bass and skittery beats. Yet she feels more comfortable simply being considered a rock musician.

“I’d say everything I do has a rock ’n’ roll essence to it,” she says. “It doesn’t sound like Led Zeppelin or anything, but there’s an attitude there that drives me to always search for new ways to do things. In classical, everything is so restrained and pure. Rock gives me this freedom to try anything.”

  • All Bets Are Off is out now via Kill Rock Stars.