Local roots-rock artist Son of Ray magically brings his two worlds together Between Dust and a Dream

When you’re pulled between two worlds, there’s little you can do but bring them together.

Make them collide.

You never know what magic you’ll get.

Rob Lagace is a man who has, admittedly, felt the pull for the past decade or so, since he and his brother moved out to Calgary from his small-town, southern Ontario upbringing in Port Colborne.

Here, he built a life for himself, he and his sibling both meeting their wives here, Rob becoming a substitute teacher firmly entrenched in the Calgary school system, and starting his longtime roots-rock project Son of Ray, growing a reputation and an audience with it.



“The pull to go back home is always there,” says Lagace sitting and sipping a pint in the bar of the northwest 4th Spot eatery. “My family’s there, I love the location — it’s right on (Lake Erie), it’s quiet country living.”

Frequent, lengthy summer returns, thanks to the teacher’s life, only made that pull stronger, as did his brother and his family heading back there recently, and the arrival of Ray’s first daughter earlier this year.

So, on this last sunny months return back east, he actually got hired on by the local school board and the Lagace clan was close to finalizing plans to migrate back east.



“We just couldn’t do it,” he says. “That’s kind of been the story of my existence out here in Calgary — every time I think it’s time to go, there’s something that keeps me here.”

And that is?

“To be honest, how good I have it here.”

Along with the obvious reasons — job security, a more metropolitan upbringing for his daughter and even the proximity to the mountains — his musical life was also a pretty big factor in the no-move. In Calgary, the gigs and players he can work with are plentiful, be he performing Son of Ray as a solo, duo, trio or quartet.

Which brings us to the two worlds coming together and the release of the latest Son of Ray album Between Dust and a Dream.

It’s an overflowing, brown booze-soaked, ashtray-full of the filters and singed tobacco tapped out by artists and influences such as Ryan Adams, The Band, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and all of the other boys that drink, smoke and sing to the best that life has to offer.

It strums like a small-town and rocks like the big city.

Perhaps that’s because it’s a true collaboration between the two, with Lagace having recorded about 85 per cent of it on a 2016 retreat with some of his old friends before returning home and having some of his newer ones add to it.

That initial session out Lake Erie way was carried out over a five-day period with a “killer band” including the album’s producer Shawn Dennis.

“Because we grew up together, we went to concerts our whole lives together, we bought records together, we’ve made music together since we were in high school, so when we play together we don’t really need to talk much — we’re all listening and we’re into it,” says Lagace of the boys.

And it was done in an old church in Wainfleet about 10 minutes from the house he grew up in, the abandoned shrine now owned by, and home to, one of those musical friends, now a space where they could jam and come together in a way that was not entirely unholy.

“I consider myself a spiritual person, not a religious person,” he says, noting that there is definitely a special energy in the place, that it has “something” that you can’t help but feel and harness.

“More likely it’s because it’s all of our friends together that are there that were feeling that experience … but there were moments when it was magical for sure, where I felt it.”

He smiles. “I loved every minute of it.”

And you can hear and feel that energy on the album, despite the talents from out west that added to it.

You can also, specifically, point to the slow, gorgeous, folk-gospel hymn Trapped in the Amber, which delivered the line that would name the collection, as being very much of the recording experience. Lagace in this conversation references often the amber in the big, beautiful stained glass windows of the church, the light coming through during the day, the dust you could see dancing in the light.

As for the other songs on the album, the highlights and hosannas are many, including wonderfully warped opening track Dreamers and Believers, which had its roots in Lagace’s participation in the Acoustic Guitar Project — where one instrument is provided to five local musicians in a city and they have a week to write a song — and which Lagace calls a “catalyst” for Between Dust as a whole, the song and that sound working their way through the rest.

Another standout — actually, probably the best of a sensational bunch — is the raggedy, swaggering The River, which is a truly remarkable story of transgendered woman he met when he was bartending at the old Unicorn years ago.

Every Friday Christina would come in and sit at the bar, Lagace eventually becoming friends with her, the two talking about shared interests such as music, cars and fishing. One night, she came in and handed him the latest issue of Swerve, telling him that if he really wanted to know about her life, here it was, a cover story titled Christina’s World which spoke eloquently of her journey.

Legace didn’t see her again, found out a few months later that she passed away from a heart attack, but he was so moved by her memory and that piece — some of the ideas, he says, are directly from the article — that he wrote The River.

“Every time I sing it I think about how sad and tragic it kind of is that she struggled her whole life to be who she was and when she finally did, she was 60, she (passed away),” he says.

“She inspired me … It came from a really raw place that wasn’t my choice — it just kind of came.”

Interestingly, in something of a nod to her and to the many musicians he met and acquaintances he made while working at The Unicorn, even hosting the open mic there for a spell, the release party for Between Dust and a Dream will be held at the new Unicorn Saturday, Dec. 9.

And in keeping with the theme, it will also feature the musicians from out east heading out west to play with him and his local mates for a Son of Ray summit of sorts featuring 10 or more.

They’ll be joined by other friends that are flying in for the night, those who once lived in Calgary but who eventually gave in to the pull.

“The boys are back in town,” Lagace says about the thought process behind the celebration. “Let’s have a party.”

And let the worlds collide and the magic happen.

Son of Ray release Between Dust and a Dream Saturday, Dec. 9 at The Unicorn (223 8th Ave. S.W.).