COVID can’t stop Austin and Big Little Lions

Helen Austin and Paul Otten perform at a Big Little Lions concert, prior to the onset of the pandemic. Photo suppliedHelen Austin and Paul Otten perform at a Big Little Lions concert, prior to the onset of the pandemic. Photo supplied
Helen Austin 2022. photo suppliedHelen Austin 2022. photo supplied
Helen Austin and Paul Otten host an online show during the COVID restrictions. Photo supplied.Helen Austin and Paul Otten host an online show during the COVID restrictions. Photo supplied.

Helen Austin still remembers the last time she saw bandmate Paul Otten in person.

The Big Little Lions duo had just finished a gig in Penticton and Otten said it was time to pack it in for a while, what with restrictions coming down and all.

It was Friday, March 13, 2020.

“We had a gig at the Penticton Dream Cafe the night before and he said, ‘I’ve got to go home; I don’t want to get stuck in quarantine,’ so we left the next day,” said Austin. “So we said our goodbyes and I said, ‘I’ll see you in May,’ when the next tour is, but that didn’t happen, and then they (gigs) just started tumbling like dominoes.”

While COVID has been a struggle, Austin and Otten have managed to navigate through the pandemic better than many musicians. The unique thing about Big Little Lions is that, with Austin living in Royston, and Otten in Cincinnati, Ohio, the majority of their recording work has always been done virtually. So as other bands tried to reinvent themselves, and adapt to the idea of Zoom meetings and virtual recordings, Austin and Otten had already perfected the skill.

“We actually just went back to the way we started… so that bit wasn’t a difficulty – we just went back to what we knew,” said Austin. “We felt like we had a bit of an advantage. Obviously, everything changed, because all our tours were cancelled, so suddenly we had all this time on our hands, so we just did what we do, which is write and record.”

The recordings started with an EP and a theme that was all too familiar to everyone.

“We told ourselves we would never write COVID songs and then our publisher wanted some COVID songs,” she said, laughing. “I remember we were on tour when it was all happening two years ago and we were wondering how many people would be writing about this, and then it was us.”

In September 2020, when it was clear things would not be returning to pre-COVID standards anytime soon, Austin suggested Big Little Lions begin releasing their music, with accompanying videos, on a monthly basis. The 20th such release was launched earlier this month.

“This is what really did change for us,” said Austin. “We were always really frustrated with writing an album then waiting a year or more to actually put it out. But we figured there are no rules now, so how about we put out a song and a video each month and that would at least give me something to focus on. I needed some structure.”

Austin said the exposure they have enjoyed with this consistent virtual marketing has been beneficial.

“It was a tricky one because we didn’t want to put out too much music and have people think, ‘oh yeah, Big Little Lions, there’s another song.’ But on the other hand, I think it’s one of the reasons we got chosen to do an official showcase at Folk Alliance this year, which is one of the things we have been wanting for years. I think our tenacity and (consistently) putting out that music caught the eye of people in the industry. We have been asked to do panels, and showcases online, and we’ve also got a new record label.”

She did confess there is one aspect of the online approach that is missing.

“It doesn’t translate well into cash, unfortunately,” she laughed, adding that streaming companies like Spotify are a necessary evil. “I have a love/hate relationship with Spotify. It really is an algorithm for people who like your music, it goes onto more playlists, But…

“Luckily I have a husband with a normal job (Trevor Squires), but it is what it is on the money side.”

Austin has kept herself busy with the occasional live concert performance in the past couple of years – be it as a house concert, or at a small outdoor venue, such as Anderton Gardens. On Jan. 15, she was part of the Celebrate Me Home concert at the Old Church Theatre in Courtenay

As for the immediate future, Big Little Lions has a spring tour tentatively booked, with dates throughout B.C., including some on the Island. The duo will play the Old Church Theatre on April 9.

Music fans in the Comox Valley can also reacquaint themselves with Austin as she takes her usual spot as MC of the main stage at Vancouver Island MusicFest this summer.

To hear the latest Big Little Lions single, visit, or check out their Facebook page.

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