Helen Austin and Paul Otten are Big Little Lions. Together, the songwriting duo will drop their debut EP Paper Cage on May 6th — a feel-good, emotion-evoking, and relaxing folk release. Between the two of them, both Austin and Otten have had hundreds of TV, movie, and ad placements. (Do you watch that MTV show Catfish? That’s where I first heard their song This Road With You, and there’s been no turning back since!) A Music Blog, Yea? recently spoke with Big Little Lions to discuss the EP, only meeting once, and songs they wish they wrote.
AMBY: Hello Big Little Lions, welcome to AMBY! Please introduce yourselves to our readers.
Big Little Lions: Hello AMBY! We are Helen Austin and Paul Otten. Paul lives in Cincinnati, Ohio and Helen lives on Vancouver Island in Canada. We are both voracious songwriters.
AMBY: How would you describe each another in one word?
H: I would describe Paul as “driven”
P: I would say Helen is “brilliant”
AMBY: Who or what inspires your sweet and soothing folk music?
H: For me it’s a mixture of the music I love and have been inspired by and the life that is happening around me.
P: I think Helen and I both inspire each other. To me, it’s a style of music I am passionate about, and that passion drives me to create something that I would enjoy just as much as any of the artists I admire.
AMBY: You soon release your debut EP Paper Cage in May! Tell me a bit about your writing process – how do you start writing a song and who writes what?
H: It can start a number a ways. Either I send Paul anything from an initial idea to a whole song (and vice versa) and we take it from there. And initial idea gets emailed back and forth until we flush out the basic song whereas if one of us has written an entire song that, too, gets sent back and forth and can end up becoming something completely different. But we both know when it’s done.
P: Most times it is a rough sketch of a song that either Helen sends to me, or I send to Helen. We then go back and forth on lyric ideas, I begin recording it, and there is more back and forth on things like instrumentation, tempo, vocal harmonies and overall vibe.
AMBY: What’s the significance behind the title Paper Cage?
H: We wanted the title to somehow link to our name and Paper Cage implies that the only cages that we are in are of our own making and we can easily escape if the will is there.
P: It was a cool title that related to our band name really well. And I believe it sums up our music: fragile, sweet with an edginess surrounding it.
AMBY: When creating the EP, what was your ultimate goal?
H: The goal was to make an EP of really good music that we hope others like as much as we do.
P: I think Helen and I fell in love with the music that we were creating together, and wanted to share it with the world.
AMBY: Has there ever been a song you wish you wrote? And if so, which song?
H: So many I can’t even list them. There are some incredible songs out there!
P: “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” by The Police. To me, the perfect marriage of irresistible melody and joy.
AMBY: What did you listen to growing up, and what have you been listening to lately?
H: I grew up in a classical household where the only popular music we had was one Beatles album and some Joan Baez… oh and ABBA’s Arrival. So BBC 1 radio was really important to me as it was my only source of pop. Lately I listen to whatever my teen daughter listens to. She is a voracious music consumer and has great taste… stuff like Jose Gonzalez, Mumford and Sons, OMAM, Ben Howard Serena Ryder etc.
P: The first music I remember listening to was Roger Miller singing on a children’s album. I grew up on The Beatles, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and The Police. These days I am digging The Wood Brothers, Good Old War, Dr. Dog and The Milk Carton Kids.
AMBY: What has you most excited for the rest of 2014?
H: The release of the EP and subsequent EPs is what excites me the most. We both write a lot and love getting our music out there.
P: I am excited to finally unleash Big Little Lions to the world! And there is so much more material that Helen and I have to write. It’s really exciting to see how much our music evolves with each song. Can’t wait to perform this music live too. Helen and I have been performing musicians in our own right for many years, so it will be a thrill to finally take the stage with her and perform the music we have written from afar.
AMBY: Lastly, what’s something about Big Little Lions that nobody knows yet?
H: Ooooh… I don’t have any dirt on Paul. I guess the fact that we have only met once, 3 years ago at a conference. We have only and emailed and spoken on the phone since. I hope we like each other ;)
P: Like Helen, I have no dirt to dish about her. One interesting nugget is the fact that Big Little Lions is very much a family affair. Her daughter Daisy plays fiddle on a number of our tracks, and my brother Brian plays drums on many of the tracks.
Thank you Big Little Lions, for giving us your answers!
Alicia Atout | @AliciaAtout