Frenchman Alex Champ and New Zealander Nadav Tabak lived parallel lives in New Zealand, busking in the same town and attending the same concerts but it wasn’t until they moved to Melbourne that they actually met. They began composing and crafting their original works in a Melbourne basement in 2013 and released their debut independent “Terra EP” as Opal Ocean in 2015 to great success, selling over 7000 copies. In late 2016, they released a full length album; Lost Fables, fusing together rock, flamenco and progressive pop elements to create their own unique wall of sound.
On Saturday August 5th Opal Ocean will be appearing on the AON Whammy Bar stage at the Melbourne Guitar Show. Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips caught up with Opal Ocean’s Nadav Tabak for a chat.
Hi Nadav. Tell me how you and Alex met?
It’s a funny story because Alex was a busker and so was I in Auckland, New Zealand. I had mates who would say to me, hey were you playing in the city today? I was like no. It turns out it was Alex. Then when I was playing here at the Queen Victoria Market, his partner saw me and said you have to come and meet my partner. So I met Alex and we hit it off and turns out we went to the same shows back in New Zealand. We were close to meeting each other but it never happened over there.
Who were your influences? Did you have guitar heroes?
We had a lot of guitar heroes. The first half of our guitar playing life was all electric, heavy metal and progressive metal for both of us. We listened to bands like Dream Theater and old school bands like Metallica. Our playing now is kind of a representation of what we like to listen to but it is more user friendly. We acoustify it and throw in some Spanish rhythms, that’s how we get our sound.
Why did you then gravitate to acoustic guitars? Was it more practical?
I guess it was in a sense. We wanted to make money as a musician, which is almost impossible. We ended up doing a lot of restaurant gigs and obviously sitting in a corner of a restaurant you can’t be blasting out Van Halen like a rock pub. We gravitated to doing a lot of those sort of gigs and over time we got to really enjoy the acoustic side of guitar playing and exploring new styles and genres.
How do you work out your guitar parts? Does one of you predominantly play lead and the other rhythm?
We generally write the music together and just decide there and then who is doing lead and who is doing rhythm. There is no set lead or rhythm player which is really cool because being egotistical guitarists, we both want to play some solos.
You recently acquired a new Yamaha guitar endorsement. What does that mean to you?
It’s awesome and means a lot to us because we have been playing with our two Yamaha guitars for years. Doing what we do, we find that they just suit us so well. We have tried many different guitars in the past but found that the way we play, we just end up breaking the guitars after a couple of weeks of busking. We put our hands through the top of the guitars. So being backed by a company which is the company we really wanted to get onboard with, is awesome. We feel a little more secure about breaking guitars now. We are both playing the NX range, their nylon string guitars. They are not built like classical guitars, they have thinner necks, play great and really suit our style.
What’s currently in your pedalboard?
Alex’s pedal board is huge, mine is a little more simple. We generally go for simple effects … obviously some wah wah, reverb and delay but the majority of our sound comes from EQing our guitars. Alex has an LR Baggs Parametric di as well as another electronic EQ, where he switches lead and rhythm tone. I also have an Empress parametric EQ as well. That just helps us dial in those sweet spots on the acoustic and get our tone. We really want to get those big bass hits so we can accentuate rhythm like drums, so we really rely on that and compression.
Lost Fables is the album you recently released. When and where was that recorded?
Lost Fables was recorded last year and we released it in November. We recorded earlier last year at Black Pearl Studios in Moorabbin. We worked with an awesome engineer, Terry Hart. It was the first time we used a producer too, Dave Newington and it was cool having those guys onboard and keeping us on track. It was our first time delving into trying to get the tone out of our heads and down to record, which is always hard when you are exploring new genres.
A video of you playing in the Bourke Street Mall has amassed over 3 million views, heading to 4 million. How much planning went into that video?
There’s a guy named David Williams who is a regular in the mall. He films all the buskers and takes photos. That video was actually taken last year. A couple of Facebook pages saw it, picked it up and shared it and it was shared again. It’s funny because we have a lot of other videos from the mall too but that one just worked better than the other ones for some reason.
You must come across some interesting people while busking. What some more memorable exchanges you’ve had on the street?
Oh yeah! Playing the Bourke St Mall … the one that comes to mind among hundreds is a guy who came up to me who was obviously a drug user, he had the markings on his arm. He came up to us after our show and he whispered into my ear, thank you Jesus and then he hugs me and got me to sign his arm where all of the markings were. He really thought I was the second coming or something.
Maybe you changed his life?
Maybe, you never know with busking, what someone walking around the mall is going through.
What have you got in store for us at the Melbourne Guitar Show?
We are super excited. We’re going to be doing songs off Lost Fables but also we’re going to sneak in a new song which is pretty exciting. It’s a new single which we will be releasing in a couple of months, so it will be a good opportunity to see what guitar fans think of it. So we’ll be doing our usual acoustic thing. We’re playing the Whammy Bar stage on the Saturday but we’ll probably be hanging around on the second day at the Yamaha booth too and playing.
What is happening for you after the guitar show?
We’re releasing a kickstarter for the new single and planning an Australian and European tour. We’ll just see where the music takes us. We’ve got some festivals and things happening, so it’s going to be a busy summer.
Opal Ocean perform at 11.45am on Saturday August 5th at the AON Whammy Bar.
Opal Ocean website
Melbourne Guitar Show ticket info