Tamar Aphek is one of the prominent faces of contemporary rock in the Israeli rock scene, and has been crowned “Israel’s guitar goddess” (Timeout Tel-Aviv). She is the creator of the “Besides That” music festival, and contributed the musical soundtrack to the film “One Week And A Day,” which won the Gan Foundation Award at Cannes Film Festival.
After years spent singing in a prestigious children’s choir, a decade of piano lessons, and a musical conservatory education, and even a degree in law studies, what was left for Tamar Aphek to tackle musically? A full-stop pivot to wild, unbridled electric guitar, of course.
For Aphek, jumping head-first into an uproarious life of rock ‘n’ roll and catapulting through Tel Aviv’s burgeoning underground scene was kismet. From the very beginning, there was no feeling like it.
“I remember when I bought my first really cheap, small amplifier, and my first shitty guitar,” she says. “I will never feel so happy about a guitar and amplifier again. Even if I play the most expensive Fender, nothing will compare to that excitement. It was the feeling of holding a weapon.”
To hear Aphek play is to hear that weapon unleashed. From her previous bands Carusella and Shoshana, to her current eponymous project, Tamar Aphek has risen to prominence in her home of Israel, toured across the United States and Europe, and sits poised to be heard globally with her new record, All Bets Are Off.
In the process of writing and recording her new album, Aphek became fascinated at the idea of combining musical sounds and stylings she felt weren’t being incorporated by other artists.
“I wanted to infuse rhythms into rock and roll that I wasn’t hearing elsewhere,” Aphek explains. “I wanted to write a Johnny Cash style song, but then dress it up in crazy Max Roach style drumming or Ethiopian rhythms. I was getting a kick out of hearing something that could sound like a catchy indie song, but with a strange reggae kind of feeling.”
In order to make it exactly as she wanted it, Tamar chose to produce the album herself and turned to Daniel Schlett (War on Drugs, DIIV) to mix and Greg Calbi (John Lennon, Bob Dylan, David Bowie) to master. To capture the band at their most locked-in, Aphek recorded All Bets Are Off after multiple months of touring, predominately at the studio of legendary funk and soul imprint Daptone Records. That time spent rehearsing and remixing ideas was vital to the album’s sound, as Aphek became increasingly fascinated with producing her rhythm section and fostering the relationship between drums and bass.
“During rehearsals before tour I wouldn’t even play guitar; I picked up the guitar only on tour and I started improvising all my parts,” she notes. “A lot of the improvisational freedom we hear in jazz records is missing for me in more current rock bands … I think that’s why we listened to a lot of bebop albums, and a lot of weird instrumental stuff: to open spiritual and artistic freedom and not be too calculated.”
For Aphek, the freedom to improvise was essential to creating the incredible ups-and-downs expressed on her solo debut. From the machine-gun percussiveness of “Crossbow”, to the creeping desolation of “Russian Winter”, to the intimate insights of “All I Know”, All Bets Are Off delights in twists and turns. Commenting on jealousy and surveillance, love and compassion, anger and escape, and countless more challenges unrevealed, it’s no wonder Aphek hoped to capture “the feeling of a rollercoaster.”
“I wanted it to be really scary when it’s scary, and really sad when it’s sad,” she says. “I didn’t want the album to sound like the same song for 10 songs. I wanted it to sound more like life, and in life you’re not stuck in one state of mind.”
“‘All bets are off’ is a concept album, that tells the story of the cyclicality of moving from the dark side to the bright side of life. This idea was translated both musically and in the lyrics. On the musical side, I wanted to create a shifting between bass, guitar and drum parts that were rhythmically syncing to parts in which the bass and the guitar plays against the kick drum. This shifting was meant to create a sense of tension and release throughout the album. While some of the work on the album included creating a space for improvisation, the post production was very calculated. Besides editing the instruments, I also cut parts of the instruments and used them as new layers.”
“I chose the name all bets are off long before the COVID 19 pandemic became part of our life. The name meant to symbolize uncertainties in life in a way that deepens the cognitive dissonance one feels when inconsistency and contradictions are tackled, either on a personal level or within a society.“
“Now, few months deep in the Corona crisis, I can’t help thinking about the prophetic messages of this name. I guess this expression can relate to a situation in which one factor alone, namely a little virus, can change everything, and that former assumptions no longer apply.”
“I believe that unconsciously I express in my songs rage and frustrations of injustice, either on a personal level like gender inequality, or on a social or political level. My style is cynical and sometimes drifting to extremes, like in my song ‘crossbow’, but eventually I still have a strong belief in the basic ideas of love and friendship, and this is the reason my album ends up with the theme song of the eternal film Casablanca, which embodies these simple ideas.”