Big Little Lions - the musical duo featuring Comox Valley singer/songwriter Helen Austin, and Paul Otten of Cincinnati, Ohio - have been nominated for a 2021 Canadian Folk Music Award (CFMA).
Big Little Lions is one of five finalists in the Vocal Group of the Year category. Their nomination comes in support of their fourth studio album, Inside Voice.
Receiving CFMA nominations is nothing new for Big Little Lions; they won Ensemble of the Year in 2015 for their debut album, A Little Frayed, A Little Torn.
They were also nominated for a pair of CFMAs in 2016 - Contemporary Album of the Year, and Vocal Group of the Year - for their follow-up album, Just Keep Moving.
CFMA project director Tara Parks explained the nomination process.
“There are five independent jurors for each of the 19 CFMA categories,” she told The Record. “These jurors, who are not known to each other, vote in two stages. For stage one, jurors review all submissions in their category and rank their top 10 selections in order of preference. These rankings are then tabulated by our accountant to determine the nominees.
“During stage two, jurors review all nominees in their category, and rank their five preferred nominees in order of preference and the recipients are calculated by our accountant. Recipients are not made public until the ‘Awards Weekend,’ which will be an online event in April 2021.”
When BLL first formed, in 2013, Austin described the collaboration as “a project.” It has evolved into much more.
“My publisher at the time wanted some male-female vocal stuff… so I asked him (Otten) to do a guy-girl vocal thing,” she explained. “It was just going to be (music) for TV and film. So we spent a year just doing that without really speaking to each other even. It was just writing and emails. We gave it a band name just for the sake of presenting [the product] to publishers. We didn’t think it was going to turn into anything, really. But then he came out here and we did some gigs, and it’s just one of those things that we just kept going because it worked. We never had any plans.”
It has worked remarkably well, considering the two live more than 4,000 kilometres apart and rarely see each other in person, when not touring.
All their production is done remotely, which has set itself up well for a year like 2020. They haven’t had to adjust their work methods much at all.
“It’s really just business as usual for us,” said Austin. “The only difference is we haven’t been able to get together for tours. Everything else is kind of the same.
“Actually, we see more of each other now, because we are making the effort to get together [virtually] every Wednesday, for a ‘snack and chat.’”
While the touring has been halted due to COVID-19, the pandemic has produced somewhat of an opportunity for the duo.
“We did release a ‘pandemic’ album in July, called Are We There Yet? Our publisher said he needed some songs with the ‘we are all in this together’ theme, because lots of ads were changing over quickly and they wanted some songs ready,” Austin said.
Big Little Lions has been rolling out videos of the songs from Are We There Yet every month, and they have been livestreaming concerts of their full albums since September.
“The third Thursday of every month we have been playing an album top to bottom, then sharing the new video online as well,” she said. “For December, we are doing our Christmas album, because it makes sense, and that’s on the 17th of December.”
To see their videos, or to sign up for their livestream concerts, go to biglittlelions.com
Access is by donation, with part of the funds going towards charity.
“With the donations, we are giving 25 per cent to Indigenous and Black youth programs,” said Austin. “I found two … Canadian ones - blackyouth.ca, and indspire.ca.”