Big Little Lions new album takes hard look at U.S.A.
Thursday, Mar 01, 2018 06:00 am
On the eve of Big Little Lions’ third album release Alive and Well, the folk band’s tiny lion Helen Austin is boarding a plane en route to Edmonton.
Austin’s travel suitcase might be too heavy, she thinks, which would mean an additional charge for the singer and guitarist.
“It probably is too heavy,” she said, leaving the bag as is.
After she lands in Edmonton, Austin will head south to Red Deer where she and bandmate Paul Otten (vocals, drums, guitar) have their debut release concert for Alive and Well as part of the band’s North American tour.
Not too many days later, Big Little Lions perform at Canmore’s artsPlace on Tuesday (Mar. 6) at 7:30 p.m., showcasing their new 13-track folk-pop album with the catchy single “Alive and Well.” The musicians take a hard look at the polarity in the U.S. throughout the 13 tracks.
Tickets are $25 for the general public.
Austin and Otten are kind of like a brother and sister while on the road – they undoubtedly will annoy each other at some point, but generally, they enjoy each other’s company.
“It’s fun, we work really well together,” she said. “We disagree, but we’re never disagreeable. We also bicker a little bit, but the respect is there.”
The duo also kind of looks ridiculous standing next to each other, as Austin is five-feet tall on her best day and Otten stands well over six feet in height. This is what actually inspired the band name Big (Otten) Little (Austin) Lions.
The tour will be the first time the lions have seen each other in a while, though, as their band dynamic is somewhat peculiar to most.
They live apart, and not just in different cities or different provinces, but different countries. Austin, originally from England, is based out of Vancouver Island, B.C., while Otten’s from Cincinnati, Ohio.
Austin has told the story so many times over the years about how they met and formed the band in 2013, she’s contemplated having a T-shirt produced in large quantities with the explanation in sub-text printed on them.
“We met at a songwriting conference,” she said. “It was really easy writing with him, so I asked him to do some stuff with me and it worked really easily … we didn’t know each other then, but it felt normal for us. It’s serendipitous – it just works.”
Some things for the band are a bit more difficult to pull off, as you could imagine, such as rehearsing. Austin recalls one time having the stranger Otten over at her Vancouver Island home and thinking, Who the hell are you?
They’ve seen a lot of success using their formula, though, and their first collaboration saw Otten producing Austin’s 2014 Juno-winning album Colour It. Big Little Lions won first place in the International Songwriting Competition, Song of the Year in the John Lennon Songwriting Competition, and Ensemble of the Year at the Canadian Folk Music Awards.
With modern technology, it’s easy for the two to record at home and digitally send what they have back and forth.
When the time came to start on their third album, in the middle of 2016, there was a bit more political inspiration in the world and a bit more purpose to Alive and Well than in their previous work, said Austin.
Alive and Well was inspired by the buildup to the 2016 U.S. election and its aftershock that thunderstruck the country and the world landscape.
“It’s about what’s going on in the world and in our faces,” Austin said. “I thought (the content) would be irrelevant by the time our album dropped (on Feb. 23), but it really hasn’t gone away.”
The track “Against the Wall” is geared toward the anger about U.S. politics and “Unicorn,” speaks for itself, said Austin, as everyone desperately wants the perfect politician.
“Our Turn” is an anthem for millennials, whom are often perceived as lazy and entitled. But this is the exact same storyline each predecessing generation has preached about the ones that came after them.
“Static” is a bit of a throwback, though, inspired by Netflix’s Stranger Things. It goes back to a time when the world didn’t seem that difficult of a place.
“It’s very much about trying to find the middle ground,” Austin said.
If this divisive world could learn just one thing from Big Little Lions, the two musicians a country apart, it’s that borders should not separate us from being able to do something great.