Phil Young is a Des Moines-based audio engineer and musician, and it’s hard to sift through the city’s music scene without his name coming up. He recently popped up alongside Greg Wheeler on an episode of Iowa Basement Tapes, for example, discussing their duo Night Stories, but he’s also active with several other acts including Zap Tura and Tires (which will both be performing at xBk Live in December — more on that later in this article), a new trio with Jordan Mayland and Steven Rood called Everything Had Teeth, and his own solo project End The Wrld. All this, on top of his day job which has found him serving as an integral part of the team building out a state-of-the-art recording and production studio in town. That’s where our discussion began, by discussing how he got to this point working in the field, before turning the focus toward a few of his current and recent musical projects.
villin: As I started doing more Q&As on the website, your name came up with increasing frequency when artists were talking about who they’ve worked with when making music in Des Moines. What was it that brought you back to town after getting your education out west, and — not to exclude any projects along the way, but — among the music you’ve recorded or mastered the past several years, are there any projects that stand out as particularly impactful or satisfying creatively?
Phil Young: Before moving to go to the Los Angeles Recording School, I had always planned to learn as much as I could in LA and eventually move back to Iowa and bring that knowledge to the (at that time) burgeoning music scene in Central Iowa. While working in West Hollywood, I definitely had moments when I thought about staying and pursuing a career in LA, but there was just too much cognitive dissonance in my life while living in California, so I stuck to my plan and moved back in 2010. I started recording bands in our house in Ames and I am very thankful to bands like Mantis Pincers, Druids, Callen’s Mudmen and the Holy White Hounds for trusting me to record their records. I really cut my teeth making those early records.
When I moved to Des Moines in 2012, I started recording bands full time. At that time, I really started to focus on making records with intent and purpose. Annalibera‘s first album Nevermind, I Love You, Druids’ Cycles of Mobeum, Son of the Morning’s self-titled album, and Omen’s Shrines to Mortality EP are just a few that come to mind during that era. There are so many more records that my friends and fellow musicians trusted me with helping them make, I could list 50 more easily.
When construction on an apartment complex began next door to my home studio, I ventured out to find a better suited place to record. This led me to Griffin Landa (of the Acacia Strain) and his studio downtown Des Moines called The Establishment. At that studio, I continued to work with some of my favorite Iowa bands. Some standouts from that time include Blood Spell’s self titled EP, The Host Country’s Strike Gently, Courtney Krause’s Tie Your Tongue/Bite Your Lip and the yet-to-be-released Hun Lobo album.
When the owner of the building doubled our rent at The Establishment, Griffin was forced to close the studio at that location. I went on to work at Sonic Factory Studio. I worked with a ton of bands and artists at that studio and I am very thankful to Jon Locker for bringing me on board there. It was there that I was getting asked to play a more integral part in the production of some projects. Ana Kingery and I worked on her debut and only album, my closure, which is a masterpiece of geniously written songs. (Ana, please make more music!!) Andrew Jones and I completed his project — Zap Tura’s album Adaptasia at that studio, and released that album last year. Run Wilson’s first full length Hypna and two succeeding EPs, most recently If You Love Me, Leave Me the Garden. I’m deeply appreciative and filled with gratitude to have been able to work so closely with these and many many others at Sonic Factory. That studio was a powerhouse of creativity and experimentation, it has since relocated to a new location and Jon Locker is still running a fantastic operation there.
I apologize to anyone I left out, I could write a book about my experiences working with all of the talented bands/artists over the last 15 years.
I’m just now realizing that both Son of the Morning & Omens have members who have since passed away. Amy (of Son of the Morning) and Nick (of Omens) were some of the kindest, most amazing people to work with, and are severely missed by the music community and their loved ones.
villin: What first led you into that role, of working on the recording and production side of music?
Phil Young: I’ve been playing music for most of my life and I started playing in bands regularly in sixth grade. I realized pretty quickly that I was not talented enough to make a living off playing music but I was always really drawn to recording. In high school I had a recording setup in my parents’ basement with a PC and software called N-track. I was always making demos and recording stuff by myself & with my friends. I really enjoyed experimenting with and manipulating audio. In 2004, my friend Keaton and I started a project called Architekture that was my first dive into melting guitar and electronic music. From there, I knew I really enjoyed making & recording music. Now over 25 years later I still suffer from crippling stage-fright, anxiety and imposter syndrome so I prefer to hide in studios and make music with fellow musicians.
villin: What’s your role at Trilix and how does it lend Des Moines something new in terms of studio space?
Phil Young: I was hired at Trilix (a Des Moines based full-service marketing agency) in early 2022 as a Post Production Audio Engineer and Sound Designer. It’s a really awesome place to work. I love the open collaboration we have with everyone who works here, specifically on the video production team. Over the last two years the scope of work I do has grown and we have introduced an exciting new expansion of our facilities creatively called Trilix Studio. Trilix Studio is a 3,400 square-foot truly state of the art facility that includes the only Dolby Atmos equipped recording studio in Iowa (that I am aware of). We have a full range of abilities from recording full bands live on 2″ tape to mixing albums in the new Dolby Atmos spatial audio format. I also think one of the most important (but boring) cornerstones of the studio space is the construction. We have meticulously constructed this new studio space from the ground up with the intention of it being a high-end professional recording studio and so much more.
villin: For lack of a better phrase I’m thinking of something like “technical sophistication,” but having lived on the west coast and down in Nashville, you’ve been exposed to a wide range of studios: How does what’s being built out at Trilix compare it with elite studios on a national level when it comes to something like that?
Phil Young: I have been privileged to have worked in a few studios across the US, and I’ve brought that experience and workflow knowledge to Trilix Studio. When designing the technical functionality of Trilix Studio, I wanted it to serve the old school way of recording live-to-tape as well as the future of music listening, which seems to be Dolby’s Atmos format. Des Moines deserves a full-feature high-end recording studio on par with what you’d find in LA, Nashville or NYC, no disrespect to any other recording studio in the area, there are some really great places to record and I’ve recorded in a lot of them! But we wanted this studio to be something special that can work for whoever needs it. It has turned into something really unique and exceptional. I don’t know of any other studio in the midwest where you can track your band to 2″ tape then turn around and mix it in Dolby Atmos in the same room.
villin: Not dissimilar to how your name has popped up on the recording side of things, you’ve been in a large number of bands over the years. One which has had a lot of your attention over the past couple months is Night Stories. How did the last string of shows go and what does Night Stories provide for you creatively that some of your other bands and projects might not?
Phil Young: It’s always a little sad to descend back into the crypt at the end of October when Night Stories has finished the yearly stroll through the foggy forest of shows. Night Stories is by far the easiest band I’ve ever been in. Greg Wheeler (of Poly Mall Cops, The Wheelers) and I have been friends since I was in middle school and played in bands together over the last 20 years. We are good friends and work very well together. One thing that separates Night Stories from other projects that I’ve been in, is the fact that it is a duo. Scheduling practices, shows, recording sessions and making other decisions are very simple when the band is you and one other person. Other bands can be much more difficult to corral since there are just plainly more people and variables involved. Then building off of that, since Greg and I have been friends for such a long time, we can communicate verbally and musically very easily. We listen to each other and don’t take anything personally. It’s a collaborative brotherly relationship.
Huge thanks to everyone who came out and saw Night Stories this year, we’re looking forward to next year and hopefully we’ll have some extra special treats for everyone next year.
villin: End the Wrld is another project that’s been on your radar lately. Broadly speaking, (the LM DEMOS release) falls under the category of video game music when characterizing it, but that probably does it a disservice. What was your intention at the outset of the project and from the perspective of its creation, what tools did you use to put it together?
Phil Young: End the Wrld has been my solo moniker since 2006-ish. I have typically used that project as a route to create, test, or demo songs that usually end up being used in other projects such as Tires or Contakta. Sometimes the song idea ends with End the Wrld because I don’t think it’s good enough to continue on, and sometimes it makes it into the next stage of its life. I’ve also used that project as a platform to remix other artists’ songs, recently releasing Addilyn Erica’s “Street Lights (End the Wrld Remix)” but I also released a full album of remixes back in 2016.
The most recent official release (and streaming debut) for End the Wrld was an EP I made with the help of AI. I used Google’s MusicLM to curate dozens of samples and then pieced everything together and added tons of other instrumentation to create LM Demos; a musical journey inspired by my childhood memories of empty Kmarts and Sega Genesis soundtracks. I thought it would be really interesting to embrace the AI thing and push it to the limits of music creation. LM Demos is a collaboration with AI. I can see why people might be scared of the current AI wave. There is the potential of danger if used without care, respect and regulation…. and I’m sure people said the same thing about fire, the wheel, computers, space travel, and the internet… sooo…
villin: Of all the bands you’ve played in, the one I’m most regularly drawn to is Tires. Considering the group dates back over a decade, I’m wondering what sort of thoughts come to mind when thinking about having been a part of a group like that for as long as you have? Did you have any feeing at its outset that Tires would still be around as long as it has?
Phil Young: I did not expect Tires to still be playing shows 12 years later. There is a now-hilarious article from the Ames Tribune about me breaking up the band three years after we started. Then again in 2016, I tried to let the band die, but we kept playing the occasional show. We played a show in 2021 backing Tires’ member Jordan Mayland playing some of his solo songs as well as some oldies. Then we were asked to join Haploid for their album release show this year on December 9 at xBk. We’ll be playing some old favorites for that show.
I think what helps keep Tires rolling is the fact that Jordan, Chris, Cory and I are all good friends and have been for over a decade now. I think for the first couple years I was really trying to make the band “do something” or “go somewhere” and stressing about that. Then over the years I realized it’s so much more gratifying to have the band be a fun and enjoyable experience. I try to make sure everyone in the band can just show up and play their instruments and not worry about the behind the scenes stuff. I’ll take care of that. Just show up and have fun. If you’re not having fun… then we’re not doing it right.
villin: What’s the “why” behind the upcoming show in December? Has there been any work done in support of releasing new music?
Phil Young: I have been hard at work on re-mixing the Tires full length album for re-release in spatial surround audio. It’s been a really gratifying experience. Mixing the Tires LP in surround sound is like finally being able to mix it the way it was meant to be experienced. There’s so much going on in those recordings and now I’m able to mix it in a way that you’re able to experience it fully. I’m very excited about releasing that. We’ll see if I get it done in time for a December release… no promises.
Also playing that December 9 show is Zap Tura (who I play bass with). I’m excited to be playing with both bands that night in celebration of Haploid’s new album, which they recorded themselves and graciously asked me to master for them. It’s a really incredible album and an exotic sonic expedition from start to finish.
For more from Phil, follow his work on Instagram, or give this playlist a listen which he created to supplement this article, calling it “some tracks I’ve recorded over the years, including some I mentioned above, and some additional notable mentions.”