SAY shines light on Staffordshire artists with collaborative trip-hop album By Design, But Still

There are so many versions of Scott Evans you may have the pleasure of knowing. There’s Scott Evans the venue manager at Captain’s Bar, and Scott Evans the label owner. usic manager and producer. Maybe you know Scott Evans the session musician for the likes of Poppy Blond, or know him as one half of acts like Behind the Moon.

And between organising local gigs, reviewing your latest releases on The Leopheard, and offering up advice and guidance to emerging artists, the multi-instrumentalist has been in the studio quietly working away on an album under his solo moniker SAY. And after 18 months in the making, it’s finally here.

The Staffordshire-based electronic trip-hop/downtempo soloist has revealed his compelling and introspective album titled By Design, But Still…. “By Design” because Scott wanted to write an album of songs influenced by his favourite trip-hop and electronic albums “But Still…” because the music is still original, fresh and contemporary.

The record, described by SAY as ‘an album of angst, fear and hope’, is a deep dive into themes of mental health, optimism and the human condition, wrapped in a sonic tapestry influenced by the best of 80s synth-pop and European electronic music.

And in true Scott Evans style, this project has not just been a labour of love and a creative release for the artist, but an opportunity to shine a light on a number of other talented musicians in the scene – something he does incredibly well with great passion, without diminishing his own talents. 

The album opens with Jacked Up – a raw and reflective track that sets the tone for what’s to come. Scott describes it as “an angry look at myself in the mirror, disappointed that despite so much medication and therapy mental illness can still get a hold.” The production is dense and brooding with rumbling instrumentation and basslines that feel as though they’re creeping up behind you like the black dog, the repetition of lines like “I can’t help you if I can’t breathe” feel almost suffocating, giving the album an immediately immersive feel.

A contrast to the opener, Radiant brings with it a sense of hope and indecision about the future, alongside a stunning performance from Cocoh. While SAY delves deeper into his signature blend of downtempo allure, Cocoh’s ethereal indie-folk vocals add a layer of celestial charm, echoing the likes of Kate Bush, with shimmering melodies beautifully complementing Scott’s uplifting beats. 

Speaking on the process of how these collaborative efforts come to life, Scott told The Leopheard: “For collaborations, after the track is complete, I then have a think who would be able to add something to the song that I can’t. With singers, I always let them write their own lyrics so they can put the emotion behind the vocal. Cocoh did an amazing job on this track – the chorus still gets me every time.”

Twist The Knife takes another stab at a darker, edgier sound, with ‘hints of disappointment and sinister motives’. Mara Liddle’s vocals are haunting, and this moodier soundscape is such a polar opposite to her usual pink-hued hyperpop – yet she suits the style so well.  The intricate production is disconcerting, with almost siren-like sounds and chaotic layered vocals in the chorus that juxtapose to calmer verses.

A melancholic yet resilient single, Fate Lies picks up pace with rattling soundscapes that slither through the verse, weaving through each of Scott’s urgently-delivered lyrics like a snake through long grass. The track is propelled forward by the skilled production, it really does feel like the track is pursuing something slightly out of reach. Scott added: “I wanted to write a song about wanting to make things better but realising that it can be quite futile but don’t give up,” – and the steady beat and urban feel really drives the message home.

Originally written by Crowspeak, Ungrounded has been transformed into a trip-hop masterpiece with stereo audio that sways and echoes. The lyrics are witty and Crowspeak’s enchanting vocals soar above the deep and sombre instrumentation and as we journey deeper into the record. It’s so impressive that Scott has collaborated with such a vast range of artists who have each added their own kiss to the tracks, while still maintaining a cohesion that flows from the first song, to the very last.

Neurotransmitter serves as a chill-out intermission, this instrumental piece that allows the listener to take a breather and unwind a little. The ambient sounds and soothing synths create a space for reflection and relaxation, which makes for a more laid back listening experience. This chilled atmosphere bleeds into Slowly, which features lyrics and vocals from rapper Podgy Hodgy. Much lighter in tone to some of the others on the album, yet iy maintains an underlying discordance that adds a layer of complexity to the song. Emotionally-charged bars of lyrics are expertly executed, the weight behind each word enhanced by the ebbs and flows of Scott’s instrumentation.


Featuring DANNI, Catching Fire was the ember that sparked the flame that is this album, having been the first song written for the project. It definitely has a slightly different vibe, leaning more into pop influences while still breaking the rules of convention. It’s a standout with its energetic production and Dido-esque vocal quality that gives it a nostalgic feel reminiscent of early 2000s electronic pop hits, yet infused with SAY’s unique trip-hop sensibilities, making it both familiar and refreshingly original.

With The World Could Be Mine, LFE delivers a stinging attack on social media. The tense track’s subdued, atmospheric synths act as a canvas for LFE to paint his lyrical narrative, matching the suspense with the heightened intensity of his rap. Luke’s lyrics depict the ‘psychology that is developed when living in deprivation’ and the way that both the lifestyle and the mental state is a hindrance to aspirations. The delivery of his rap is impeccable, his flow precise and his words measured, making it impossible not to feel the full weight of them. For all its passion and grit, this is probably my favourite song on the album.

As we near the end of the LP, Walk On The Other Side returns to that angst-driven sound, where evocative lyrics and mesmerising production create an otherworldly ambience that has a real way of affecting your mood. The eerie vocals are integrated into the mix in a way that makes it feel as though Scott is the voice inside your head, communicating with you and you alone. With nods to the likes of Radiohead and Scott’s Desert Island Discs pick Depeche Mode, the pulsating downtempo beats offer a thought-provoking and poignant reflection on mental health battles and intrusive thoughts.

Last but not least, closing track Safe Word ponders the idea of having a code that ‘could release you from any mental health issues you are tackling’. It comes full circle, exploring a similar theme and sharing that same gloomy and foreboding feel as Jacked Up, but with a glimmer of hope and resolution. The lengthy instrumentals allow space to reflect on the album, gaining intensity throughout the bridge with an almost dream-like quality.

By Design, But Still… is an album that successfully marries the nostalgic influences of 80s synth-pop reminiscent of the likes of David Sylvian and Ultravox, with contemporary trip-hop elements, which results in something really quite unique. Throughout the whole album, SAY showcases his mastery of production, each element meticulously crafted and precisely balanced, resulting in a really well rounded record and an addictive listen.

Not only has SAY crafted a deeply personal and resonant project that breaks the rules of pop while staying true to his influences, the collaborations add a diversity of voices and styles, giving members of Staffordshire and Cheshire’s music scene a project that is innovative and exciting to be a part of. Plus, SAY’s ability to tackle heavy themes with such grace and grit makes By Design, But Still… a must-listen for fans of electronic and trip-hop music. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Looking for Something?