Bluegrass Beyond Borders: Belgium’s Borderline Breakdown Band

Belgium may be a relatively small country, especially compared to its immediate neighbors, but its enthusiasm for bluegrass still looms large. One need look no further than the Borderline Breakdown Band. The group first formed in 2014, originating with four musicians who began playing in a basement while sharing their common affection for bluegrass. “Because we had some much fun doing this, we started searching for lead singers,” notes Koen Meyvisch, the group’s 5-string banjo player. 

As luck would have it, their timing was right, which made their search easier that it might have been otherwise. “During that time, there was a film called The Broken Circle Breakdown that was a real hit in Belgium, and the rest of Europe as well. The soundtrack was composed of bluegrass music, and so suddenly that kind of music got very popular in Belgium. As a result, it wasn’t that hard to find lead singers. After some rehearsals, we started performing and taking advantage of the success of the movie.”

The group — which currently consists of Meyvisch, lead singers Viv Bancken and Edwin Paques, Ivo Smolders on mandolin and reso-guitar, double bassist Roger Grossard, and guitarist and accordion player, Claudio Mognol — all reside in Genk, Belgian, with the exception of Bancken who lives in Maastricht, Netherlands, a onetime coal mining town. “That is one of the reasons why our name is Borderline Breakdown Band,” Meyvisch explains. “In May 2020, the European borders were closed for non-essential traveling due to COVID-19. As a result, we did not Viv have for a while due to the fact she was in the Netherlands. Then we got the idea of doing a rehearsal at the border. There were actually photos of us standing in Belgium, while Viv was standing in The Netherlands on the other side of the gate.”

It was an intriguing option at the time, but Meyvisch suggests that when it comes to their music, they more or less maintain a traditional muse. “Most of the songs in our setlist are bluegrass songs, and our sound is basically bluegrass as well,” he suggests. “But there are times when we add an accordion which gives a traditional Belgian touch. We also have some atypical bluegrass songs in our playlist, such as Jolie Louise, a song by Daniel Lanois, and Les Filles Du Bord De Mer from Salvatore Adamo. We don’t have a fiddler, but the accordion fills that gap, and hereby we sometimes create a different sound than the typical American bluegrass musicians.”

Meyvissch also cites such songs as Just Over in the Gloryland, Blue Moon of Kentucky, Under a Stormy Sky, Foggy Mountain Breakdown, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, If I Needed You, Long Time Gone, Comes a Time, and Banks of the Ohio as among their most common covers, but also says that the group boasts a diverse array of influences as well.

“Our influences are definitely bluegrass,” he explains. “But we also have some Neil Young fans among us. In addition, Edwin Paques is a French chanson singer. Claudio is a hard rock fan. Viv Bancken is also a lead singer in a pop-rock band. I was influenced by the film Deliverance as well as the music of John Denver and Alison Kraus & Union Station. It’s fair to say that we all have a different musical backgrounds, but we came together to play bluegrass and as a result, we’re enjoying it very much!”

Indeed, they’ve had plenty of opportunity to enjoy it as well. To date they’ve performed throughout their country and in the south of the Netherlands. They’ve also performed at a few major gatherings, including Belguim’s countryfestival, the Genk on Stage festival in their hometown and at the Diamond Dogs Festival in the city of Waterschei, also in Belgium.

“We always receive a very warm welcome and the audience is always entertained,” Meyvisch responds when asked about the reception the band has received at home.

They offer evidence of an outfit that’s clearly credible and capable of sharing an astute style and dedicated delivery.

“I think because bluegrass has been the basis and foundation for all modern music today,” Meyvisch says proudly. “It’s a sound that is always recognizable.”

For more on the Borderline Breakdown Band, visit them on Facebook.

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About the Author

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman has been a writer and reviewer for the better part of the past 20 years. He writes for the following publications — No Depression, Goldmine, Country Standard TIme, Paste, Relix, Lincoln Center Spotlight, Fader, and Glide. A lifelong music obsessive and avid collector, he firmly believes that music provides the soundtrack for our lives and his reverence for the artists, performers and creative mind that go into creating their craft spurs his inspiration and motivation for every word hie writes.