Olivia Kaplan Documents the Soured Thrill of a Fuckboy Crush on “Still Strangers”

The songwriter provides a short Q&A ahead of her debut album Tonight Turns to Nothing, out June 25 via Topshelf Records.

Sometimes having a crush on someone is like being infinitely suspended in one of those skydiving simulators; there’s a thrill, seemingly suspended for forever, and there are no dire stakes or an awareness of when you hit the safe, indoor ground. It’s especially the case when that crush gives you no sense of clarity or closure, but that stiff ambiguity might as well be a melancholic rejection. This faded thrill is captured on the latest single “Still Strangers” from Olivia Kaplan. Over tinny, moderate guitar plucks, Kaplan captures the soured excitement of crushing on someone.

On the track, the Los Angeles musician sings about two people in a bar—one trying to further a connection and the other obliviously stale to that person’s desire. The slow-burning track has detailed narrative lyricism reminiscent of Andy Shauf and an intense sincerity similar to Squirrel Flower. “‘Still Strangers’ is from the perspective of a person who would rather tolerate the ambiguity than face honest rejection and it takes a gentle stab at the fuckboy who reels you in emotionally without wanting to take responsibility for it,” Kaplan says of the track.

“Still Strangers” is the third single Kaplan has released off her forthcoming debut album Tonight Turns to Nothing. We had some questions for Kaplan, which she answers below. Listen to “Still Strangers” and check out the Q&A below.

How did “Still Strangers” come about?

My crush didn’t like me back, so I wrote this one night after I decided to give up.

There’s a thread in the song about the draw of California and Southern Cali’s sadness. Can you expand on that?

It’s kind of a joke at this point, because we were actually having that awful default conversation people have about living in LA versus NY or wherever. I know he was sincerely talking about a sense of solitude and isolation that people struggle with in the first couple years of moving here, but the cynic in me thinks I was so desperate for connection that I muted the fact that our conversation was more prescribed than meaningful.

One theme the song gets at is the idea of intimacy—whether it’s the anticipatory build at the end or divulging hidden aspects of oneself in a bar. When does one stop being a stranger to another?

Intimacy is tricky and its many pitfalls never fail to inspire a song or five. I think we’re now in an era when transparency is sexy and people are trying to be more forthright about their needs and expectations in ambiguous romantic situations, but who wants to hear a song about that? “Still Strangers” is from the perspective of a person who would rather tolerate the ambiguity than face honest rejection and it takes a gentle stab at the fuckboy who reels you in emotionally without wanting to take responsibility for it. I don’t know what makes a stranger not a stranger anymore… I guess some deeper sense of acknowledgement of what is happening, or what has happened between two people. It doesn’t guarantee intimacy, but it sounds like a good start.

When the song was finished, did you learn anything about yourself? How do you feel when you listen back on this song?

I feel like, in conversation, I’m not the best storyteller; my organization is off and I abandon ship halfway through or misplace the punchline. This song taught me that I’m more capable of storytelling than I think. I take pleasure in its precision and adherence to the actual experience.

How did you connect with Buck Meek for the song “Wrong”? How did he influence or impact you?

We met playing a show with our friends in the band Fell Runner. My band and I have enjoyed a lot of Big Thief’s music over the last few years and when we were recording the first single off the record “Wrong” we thought of Buck’s dirty, off-kilter guitar playing for the outro at the end—he nailed it.

How do you think people see you? How do you wish people saw you? What’s the biggest misconception people have about you?

I think people see me as athletic, which I am. I wish they’d see me as a little more punk without me having to be visibly punk. People don’t think I watch the Bachelor, but I do.

Where or when do you feel your most inspired?

I feel most inspired when I’m alone in my house after reading or seeing something beautiful that makes me go, “Wow.. that is so true.”

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