*Adapted from American Songwriter
Once Emma Klein realized she didn’t need reality TV to find success, her songwriting blossomed. The 24-year-old singer-songwriter auditioned for The X Factor and America’s Got Talent once, American Idol twice, and The Voice seven times before focusing on her craft. It was her second swing at American Idol in 2019—prompted by her friend and top 10 contestant, Walker Burroughs—where her vocal talent entranced Bobby Bones, who later took her on tour to open for the Raging Idiots Tour, until the pandemic.
“A few months later, Walker was playing keys for Bobby, and I was the opener touring around the country,” Klein recalls. “I owe my sanity to Walker. I couldn’t have gone through reality TV and my first big tour without having such an incredible friend by my side every step of the way. I owe probably all of my future money and happiness to Bobby for believing in me and for helping me navigate literally everything. I am so grateful for that experience and for every no I’ve ever received that led me straight to it.”
It was on stage in 2019 that Klein revealed her underpinned inspiration for her second try at the show. Her brother—who she auditioned with the first time and described as her “rock”—suffers from an anoxic brain injury following a “heartbreaking” suicide attempt that upended life as her family once knew it. Making it to the top 20 before departing the show and embarking on a tour with Bobby Bones was the last push Klein needed to share her stories meaningfully.
Her new song, “Off My Mind,” is a self-soothing testament to the fractures she’s faced—a crippling heartache from a breakup in the wake of her brother’s attempted suicide that left her numb. Penned from Ireland’s rocky Atlantic shoreline, the lyrics capture the 20-year-old college junior as she ponders the pain she carried as baggage thousands of miles from home to a writer’s retreat.
“Every day, we’d wake up and see something even more magical than the day before, but I couldn’t shake that numbness everywhere we went,” she explains. “It took a few weeks for me to realize that even though I flew across the ocean, I still took my brain with me. You can leave the country behind, but you can’t leave your head no matter how hard you try.”
Sitting there at the Cliffs of Moher, she began to laugh—though she really felt like crying—as the line, Somehow you still haunt me from 3,000 miles away, came to her, melody and all. She ran back to the hotel and locked herself in a private room to put pen to paper.
“An hour later, that song was done,” says Klein. “And to this day, I don’t know how it happened that fast, but I know it felt like breathing to me, and I went to bed knowing I want to write songs for the rest of my life.”
he melodies within the tune are drenched in Gaelic tradition she picked up during her time there. Pieces were plucked from all the places she visited. She credits the old men singing old Irish songs on guitar in every pub she popped into. “I loved how unapologetically and authentically the Irish write about their stories and woes,” she says. With the help of her producer, Jared Conrad, Klein was able to place the listener right back to where the story started.
Klein says “‘Off My Mind’ feels better every single time I listen to it or perform it live.” She adds, “I think it was the song that introduced me to the artist that I am rather than the artist that I was trying to be for so long.” Her intuition wielded that day in Ireland to write it all down while it was fresh exhibited growth as a songwriter. The fact that it was written without pride marks a personal milestone for the emerging act.
“I didn’t write it because there was a deadline,” she says. “I didn’t write it because I wanted to have a sad song for people to relate to; I wrote it because I felt like I physically had to. After the amount of time I spent making myself smaller both personally and artistically to fit the mold of what I thought either boys or publishers would want me to be, this song was like letting go and trusting my voice for the first time—I’m really proud of that.”
“Off My Mind” sets the tone for her forthcoming EP, Love Me Too. The comprehensive project reflects the three or four years Klein spent entangled in a relationship that proved unfruitful. The tracks mimic the emotional evolution of the gut-wrenching journey. It opens with a buoyancy native only to newfound lust. “Off My Mind” pinnacles the point of no return, easing into the eventual serenity of learning self-love.
“This story couldn’t be told well unless the level of heartache I experienced was accurately conveyed,” says Klein. “I’ve written a lot of sad breakup songs in my life, but there’s something that personally hits me the hardest with this one. This song helps tell the story because it feels exactly the same as how I felt when I wrote it, and that makes it special to me.”