The two award-winning singer/songwriters who make up the band, Big Little Lions, played their hearts out to a full house at The Arts Station on Wednesday, March 8.
The duo of Helen Austin and Paul Otten produces a sound large enough to accompany a four-piece band, thanks to their musical multitasking.
Each play multiple instruments; Austin sings, plays guitar, and uses her feet to keep a beat, with four different instruments attached to different pedals. Otten simultaneously plays the drums, the kick being made of a suitcase, the keyboard, bass and vocals.
This multitasking musical act used to be a joke between Otten and his friends of old, but found a place in the Big Little Lions when Austin and Otten found it easier to both succeed, and travel more, as a band with fewer members.
The harmony of their voices was truly a match made in heaven, and an unlikely one to discover, as they both live on opposite sides of the continent. Otten is originally from Cincinatti, OH, and Austin is from the Comox Valley, Vancouver Island, B.C.
Growing up, Austin started writing music at the age of 12. This led her to work as a stand up comedian for 20 years, specializing in musical stand up comedy, as well as producing an album of children’s songs, which was nominated for a Juno, and life took off.
“I’ve never really questioned it,” said Austin, “It’s just what I do.”
The two met while working as writers for television and film. Previously in life, both had worked as musicians in other bands, writers on other projects, and much more. Collaborating on a project, they discovered each other’s talents with music. Otten helped Austin produce her second album, which won a Juno.
After motivation from their current mutual producer, encouraging them to form as a band together, the two took a leap of faith and committed to this.
“Our producer liked to create bands,” said Otten, with a smile. “Performing together, it was like, we’re 2000 miles apart, how’s that going to work?”
Often, Big Little Lions will face a very short and speedy two-day rehearsal, followed by a lengthy tour.
“Amazingly, being so far apart, we’ve played enough together that unless there’s an odd new song here and there that we want to play, those are the challenges. But other than that it’s like riding a bike,” said Otten.
The group has managed to get together seven times so far in 2017. Although travel expenses are prohibitive, both performers possess all the equipment necessary for a show, so depending on what side of the continent they are playing on, only one has to travel to a rendezvous point.
The group is proud of their many accomplishments together, including winning Best Ensemble at the Canadian Folk Music Awards in 2015.
Both would consider their most successful song to be “The way home”, a story of family, and appreciation of brotherly fellowship. It was aired on Vinyl Cafe. “Against the wall”, a song speaking to recent politics, was aired on CBC’s the Q with Tom Power, as well as one of their older tracks, “Fill me up.”
Big Little Lions promoted a few features from their upcoming album, during this tour, which is set to be officially released at the end of this year or the beginning of next.