You might be aware that Francis and the Lights (aka producer/songwriter/Eaux Claires vet Francis Starlite) will be in Minneapolis next week to play First Avenue. But you probably didn’t know that he and producer BJ Burton recorded his last album, Just For Us, in Northeast Minneapolis at the Terrarium.
After working with Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) in Wisconsin for a few years, Starlite and Burton decided to book a space that was, well…just for them. “Me and Francis and Justin worked a lot together in the last few years,” Burton says. “I produced Justin’s last album [22, A Million] at April Base, and Francis’s album [Farewell, Starlite!] before that at April Base. We were trying to do some more music, but Justin’s got his own thing going on right now. So me and Francis decided […] let’s get a month at Terrarium.”
Starlite drove his Lincoln Town Car from Los Angeles to Minneapolis, recording voice memos of melodies and beatbox ideas along the way.
Once he arrived, he spent December 2017 camped out with Burton in the studio. “We brought in a TV,” Burton remembers. “NBA was on all the time.” Terrarium recording engineer/studio manager Jason Orris chuckles, saying, “They totally were vampires. I would go in there in the morning and find one or both of them asleep on the couch.”
The intensive stay enabled them to release Just For Us on Dec. 29, one of the last days of the month. “Francis really needed to release that music to move forward,” Burton says. “So that’s why we did it so fast.” He says it uplifted other artists: “Kanye was texting Francis, like, ‘This is so inspiring.’ Justin was calling me, crying.” Burton recalls the experience with wonderment: “If we abided by the regular way artists do things now, on labels, that album would not be out yet. You know? It might come out next month.”
The success of their Terrarium sojourn was one more reason Burton purchased his own Minneapolis studio in May. Some have described this event as an act of gentrification, since previous tenant Lance Conrad and his studio Humans Win! were reportedly evicted, while others have lauded the change.
Meanwhile, the Terrarium has been running for a quarter of a century, hosting artists such as Dave King, Donna Grantis, and Farewell Milwaukee in recent years. Burton worked there while producing Hippo Campus’s debut album, Landmark, in 2016. The studio is located at 607 Central Ave. SE in Minneapolis.
As Burton moves on from April Base, at least for the time being, he’s excited to make Minneapolis into more of a home. He wants to bring other artists into town, he says: “If I can do that with Francis, I can do that with anyone.” At the mention of Chance the Rapper, he gets excited before cutting himself off. “Chance was — it was — yeah. There’s more music to come, for sure.”