Breakmen break rules of traditional bluegrass

An auspicious meeting with Yukon musician Bob Hamilton five years ago has pulled roots group the Breakmen up to Whitehorse. Archie Pateman, lead vocalist for the quartet, travelled to Atlin a few years ago to play the summer music festival with an earlier band of his, the Boot Screefers.

An auspicious meeting with Yukon musician Bob Hamilton five years ago has pulled roots group the Breakmen up to Whitehorse.

Archie Pateman, lead vocalist for the quartet, travelled to Atlin a few years ago to play the summer music festival with an earlier band of his, the Boot Screefers.

Pateman had long been a fan of Hamilton, admiring his work in the Undertaking Daddies. But he’d never actually met him.

Then, just as Pateman and his band took to the stage in Atlin, he saw Hamilton pull up on his Harley.

“Archie was preparing to sing a song called Isabel and he saw Bob and refused to do it because Bob was in the audience,” said Matthew Lawson, who plays upright bass for the Breakmen.

After the show, Pateman ended up meeting Hamilton.

“Bob was really gracious and said, ‘On your way back to town, why don’t you stop by,’” said Lawson.

And Pateman did, kicking off a friendship that has lasted since then.

The rest of the Breakmen eventually hooked up with Hamilton during a yearly bluegrass festival in Sorrento, BC. Hamilton was teaching a workshop.

“We’ve always clicked well with Bob and had fun, going back to the (festival) bus, having a whiskey and shooting the shit,” said Lawson.

“And we’ve always aspired to his style of music and professionalism.”

Now, Hamilton has invited them back into his home.

Last week members of the Breakmen arrived in Whitehorse to start recording at Hamilton’s Old Crow Recording studio.

It’s the first time the band has travelled to the Yukon together.

The four musicians are working on their third album since they started playing together in 2005.

Their first two albums, When You Leave Town and The Breakmen, feature rolling banjo picking, booming upright bass, mandolin and harmonized vocals that stray from traditional bluegrass songs.

The energy and enthusiasm of their shows has led people to compare them to bluegrass giants, Old Crow Medicine Show.

“I think it’s the younger energy and the string band thing we have going,” said Lawson explaining that musically, the band doesn’t mirror the sound of Old Crow Medicine Show.

For their third album, the band is trying to move even farther away from traditional bluegrass and roots and cross their music with other genres.

It will have more of an edge because of the new elements we’re adding, said Lawson.

That includes adding drumbeats to each of their songs, when with their earlier work, drums were only an afterthought.

“The result is a sound that’s really up front, rhythmic and driving,” said Lawson comparing the recent recording to “roots soup.”

The band is hoping the extra blend of music on this record will make the Breakmen more appealing to a general audience.

Not that Canada’s bluegrass scene is struggling to attract listeners, it’s actually bigger than it’s ever been, said Lawson.

The motivation to make its sound more accessible is more about the band wanting to branch out creatively than thinking the bluegrass genre is dying off, he said.

“When you’re not restricting your songwriting and song structure to a traditional (bluegrass sound) you can do so much more with it.”

The geographical distance between band members has also forced the musicians to be more creative.

A year and a half ago members of the band scattered from Vancouver to different towns in Canada and the US with Lawson living as far away as Ontario.

But the distance hasn’t been an issue for them, said Lawson.

“It creates an interesting dynamic,” he said.

Good musicians should be practising on their own anyhow, he said. So when one of the members of the band has an idea, they write the music for it, throw down some bass, guitar and vocals and send it to other people in the band and ask what they think.

“That’s the power of e-mail and modern technology,” he said.

When the band showed up in Whitehorse last week, the musicians had a sense of what they were going to play but didn’t have their record completely mapped out.

“It’s been an experimental process and it’s been pretty exciting like that,” said Lawson.

“When you record that way something happens that isn’t rehearsed and it’s, well, magic.”

The Breakmen play the Old Fire Hall Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.

Contact Vivian Belik at

Just Posted

A motorcycle with driver pulled over on the right side of the North Klondike Highway whose speed was locked in at 171 kilometres per hour. (Courtesy/Yukon RCMP)
Patrols of Yukon highways find poorly-secured loads, intoxicated drivers

The ongoing patrols which police call ‘Operation Cooridor’ is mainly focused on commercial vehicles.

Awaken Festival organizers Meredith Pritchard, Colin Wolf, Martin Nishikawa inside the Old Firehall in Whitehorse on May 11. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Performing arts fest plans to awaken artistic talent in Whitehorse and the rural North

‘A value of ours is to make theatre as accessible as possible.’

April Mikkelsen tosses a disc during a ladies only disc golf tournament at Solstice DiscGolfPark on May 8. John Tonin/Yukon News
Yukon sees its first-ever women’s disc golf tournament

The Professional Disc Golf Assocation had a global women’s event last weekend. In the Yukon, a women’s only tournament was held for the first time ever.

Dave Blottner, executive director at the Whitehorse Food Bank, said the food bank upped its services because of the pandemic. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Food Bank sees Yukoners’ generosity firsthand

“Businesses didn’t know if they could stay open but they were calling us to make sure we were able to stay open.”

Air North president Joe Sparling said the relaxing of self-isolation rules will be good for the business, but he still expects a slow summer. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News)
Air North president expects a slow summer

Air North president Joe Sparling suspects it will be a long time before things return to pre-pandemic times

A prescribed burn is seen from the lookout at Range Road and Whistle Bend Way in Whitehorse May 12. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Editorial: Are you ready for a forest fire?

Citizens for a Firesmart Whitehorse have listed some steps for Yukoners to boost safety and awareness

Caribou pass through the Dempster Highway area in their annual migration. A recent decision by the privacy commissioner has recommended the release of some caribou collar re-location data. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News)
Privacy commissioner recommends release of caribou location data

Department of Environment says consultation with its partners needed before it will consider release

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Family pleased youth will be able to get Pfizer vaccine

Angela Drainville, mother of two, is anxious for a rollout plan to come forward

Safe at home office in Whitehorse on May 10, 2021. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Federal government provides $1.6 million for Yukon anti-homelessness work

Projects including five mobile homes for small communities received funding.

Drilling at Northern Tiger’s 3Ace gold project in 2011. Randi Newton argues that mining in the territory can be reshaped. (Yukon government/file)
Editorial: There’s momentum for mining reform

CPAWS’ Randi Newton argues that the territory’s mining legislations need a substantial overhaul

At its May 10 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved the subdivision for the Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s business park planned in Marwell. (Submitted)
KDFN business park subdivision approved

Will mean more commercial industrial land available in Whitehorse

Main Street in Whitehorse on May 4. Whitehorse city council has passed the first two readings of a bylaw to allow pop-up patios in city parking spaces. Third reading will come forward later in May. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Whitehorse council pursuing restaurant patio possibilities

Council passes first two readings for new patio bylaw

Most Read