Ramen Fog is new, fresh, and ever inventing themselves. The Vancouver band, who are self-described as a mix of pop, jazz and soul, are unique in their sound and approach to the scene — each member bringing their experience in a diverse range of genres, whether that be jazz, punk, or synth pop.
Initially formed in early 2022, Ramen Fog has gone through a few different formations, but Amy Tan, Rowan McDonald, and Adam Gold all remained as vocalist, guitarist, and drummer respectively. Now, with a new bassist in Josh Collesso (replacing Torrey Mckee) and Ben Rossouw on keys, the band is set with a new energy to match their growing attention and shows — in fact, just this May Ramen Fog played their biggest show yet at the Fox Cabaret.
Tan, Collesso, Rossouw, and McDonald all have backgrounds with UBC’s Jazz club and this connection led to much of the formation of Ramen Fog. Initially meeting in a jam session at the Jazz Club, Tan and McDonald both held aspirations to form a band, McDonald brought in Mckee, and soon they began the search for a drummer. Gold was introduced to the band through overhearing their conversation outside Nori about the unsuccessful search for a drummer, and quickly clicked with the rest of the band. The more recent addition of Collesso and Rossouw also happened in a rather fateful way, with Collesso and McDonald meeting over a year ago in a music class. It was through Collesso that Rossouw was finally introduced.
Having attended the Fox gig, I immediately noticed the atmosphere was light and happy, and the sway of the crowd picked up as they played familiar songs — most notably during “Slippy Fingers,” the band’s first single and most popular song. When performing, Ramen Fog are in sync and self-assured, maintaining a clear flow between songs without much pause for banter. The power of Tan’s vocals and the talent of each member becomes supercharged in this live setting. The show was just under an hour and as Tan explained to the crowd, they played practically all their material, taking the audience through a range of musical styles and lyrical themes. The show ended on a high, with the band playing an encore of “Solar System,” while the audience sang and clapped along. The crowd was a friendly, eager one, matching the energy of the band, and they left people buzzing.
Excluding live performances available online, Ramen Fog have three officially released songs — “Slippy Fingers,” “Solar System,” and “Coconut.” While Tan — currently the main songwriter — claimed to be playing it safe with the songwriting, using themes of love, these songs are far from rudimentary. The three tracks depict the various emotions attached to falling in love, following themes of detachment from reality and loss of control, accompanied by instrumentals with a dreamlike and free quality, demonstrating an unwillingness to be contained in their lyrics and melody. “Solar System” has the feeling of wanting to be loved and seen, and a sense of longing for someone that might not fully be there. “Coconut” also follows a feeling of falling in love but this time it is about the lack of control over love and who you fall for. The song romanticizes the person they are in love with, and illustrates a desire to be together while still containing an uncertainty about love. These lyrical themes and musical patterns of confusion and dreaminess call back to the band’s definition of their name, explaining the double meaning of it being both the fog on one’s glasses and slight brain fog you feel after eating a steaming bowl of ramen.
This is a band that feels a push to try new things, they are curious, and as their guitarist McDonald described, they have “musical ADD.” While they have not found what many may consider ‘their sound’ yet, that does not intimidate them. Rather, it excites them as they are leaning more towards the unknown and exploring less conventional music. The same goes for their songwriting, as Tan considers the process of writing more personal lyrics. While Tan typically brings the melody, and McDonald the chords, the band maintains an openness in how they produce and practice new material, taking everyone’s opinion into consideration. While watching the band practice, I noticed this in particular as they worked through creating a more dynamic ending to one of their newer songs. The playful and relaxed energy between members was apparent as we sat in the drummer’s sunny backyard, as well as the great deal of respect they hold for one another. They easily express their admiration for each other’s musical talents, with Collesso shouting-out McDonald’s formation of harmonically engaging pop, or McDonald’s recognition of Rossouw’s talent on keys long before he had even joined the band.
When discussing songwriting, Tan explained how initially she leaned into traditional themes of love, as evident in their first three official releases. However, as she became comfortable in her voice and sharing with others, she opened up more, exploring vulnerable or stigmatized emotions. In the song “433,” which Tan wrote last October, she discusses her challenges with depression, and the effort and strength which is required to come back and live life again after a major depressive episode. Tan’s musical output is not the only one shifting, Gold and McDonald also touch on the increased comfortability with which they collaborate, just as well, Rossouw and Collesso plan to contribute more to the songwriting process.
Both in songwriting and genre, Ramen Fog refuses to be confined. Even when discussing their musical inspirations, they are expansive in their references. For inspiration they cite bands like Peach Pit, Rush, and Hiatus Kaiyote, all the way to artists such as Daniel Caesar, Corinne Bailey Rae, and Mitski. When looking around their practice room, these eclectic musical inspirations are also demonstrated in the display of posters — such as Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, as well as their connection to the Vancouver scene, with a Nardwuar poster.
Ramen Fog’s influence from their roots in jazz are especially evident through the inclusion of saxophone and backup singers in live performances and the experience each member has is clear both in the comfortability with which they play, and in how they interact with one another. It’s an expression of individuality and interconnectedness. When discussing the difference between playing in this band, and in a more jazz-centric environment, Rossouw — originally trained in classical piano — uses the metaphor of a crayon, how he is still using the same tool of a crayon just in a different colour. Similarly, Collesso’s main focus over the past few years has been jazz, yet he has early experience with punk and indie rock influencing his style. Tan has been involved in classical and jazz choir since she was twelve, giving her a sense of vocal knowledge that she is making it her own in this setting and she cites this experience and the enjoyment of singing with other vocalists as the reason behind bringing in backup singers for the Fox show. Even while playing in Ramen Fog, the members stay involved in other musical projects. Tan in Rosemary Ginger, a band more synth and alternative pop focused, McDonald in Tiger Lily, self-described as midwest emo and Gold working on a new project titled Talk Nothing.
Ramen Fog has seen an increase in recognition and it was notable during their performance at the Fox Cabaret that they have their sights set on an exciting, ever-growing future focused on releasing more music. This is a band that refuses to be stagnant, they are bursting at the seams with ideas, which can make it feel as if they are being pulled in numerous different ways, and I am eager to see how they weave these contrasting and various elements together. The band’s energy in their performance and our discussion of their plans for the future indicates exciting things to come, as they begin this new chapter of their musical style, with hopes of an EP or album. Additionally, they are working towards performing in other notable Vancouver venues, specifically the Biltmore Cabaret and Rickshaw Theatre. Their collective motivation to continuously explore and experiment keeps the band feeling distinct and original, combined with their diverse musical experience they present such a bright and creative future. So much is on the horizon for Ramen Fog, the specifics may be unknown, but it is definitely worth sticking around for.