For much of her career, Sierra Deaton has been defined by someone else. The L.A.-based musician came into her own as one half of Alex & Sierra, the indie pop duo who won the third season of The X Factor in 2013. Alex & Sierra featured Deaton alongside her real-life boyfriend Alex Kinsey, the more outspoken force behind the group’s releases. After a successful album and EP, the band announced last September that Alex & Sierra was finished, due largely to Deaton and Kinsey’s breakup a year prior. “For a long time there was hope we could fix things and we’d get back together,” Deaton says. “But then it was done.”
Deaton is now unveiling her first solo single as Essy, a project of her own making. The track, “Don’t Hurt,” represents the sort of music Deaton wants to make going forward. “I had only done music with someone else, so it took me a while to not be so afraid of making music on my own,” she notes. “But I think it’s what I was always meant to be doing.”
Deaton spoke to Billboard about her breakup with Kinsey, how she’s moved forward and what “Don’t Hurt” means to her.
When you and Alex broke up, what sort of discussion did you have about the status of the band?
We both wanted to keep the band going at first. We did try. We did a tour. We did an album together. As you can imagine it was pretty difficult to be living on a bus together and be broken up. It got to the point where if we couldn’t be friends to each other then we couldn’t be in a band together. The resentment was just growing and it was better off to end it.
How as the decision made to end Alex & Sierra?
It pretty hard. We tried for a while, but then Alex released a song with one of our old friends without telling me. I was like, “Okay, well, there’s probably no hope anymore.” It was like, “I’m out. I’m done.” We weren’t going to sit there and fake a relationship and pretend to be happy if we couldn’t even be friends.
Did Alex and Sierra’s music represent who you are as a musician?
No, honestly. I had never written a song before in my life, so in the beginning it was really easy for me to take a backseat on things. I do love the music that we put out in Alex & Sierra, but at the same time it was music that would make both me and Alex happy and wasn’t necessarily my all-time favorite. Now it’s very invigorating to be the one making the decisions. Alex is a very type-A personality and super extroverted and I am not one to fight for all of those things, especially to someone I love. It’s really exciting now that I can say the things I want to say and make the music I want to make.
Are there moments when you wish you had stood up for yourself more?
Yeah, definitely. And there were times when I did. But I was choosing the relationship over the fight. You have to pick your battles and I usually lost. But not anymore.
Do you and Alex still speak?
No. No. I really needed him once and I reached out to him as a friend and he ignored me. It was not something you ignore someone on. And if he couldn’t be a good friend to me, then I couldn’t hurt myself over that friendship.
What was the inspiration for “Don’t Hurt”?
Everyone knows I was with Alex, my ex, for six years — we’ve known each other since high school. It was really hard after we broke up because I was single but he was obviously my friend. It got pretty difficult walking the line of what I should tell him. I wanted to be able to tell him all these exciting things happening in my life, but then I realized once he couldn’t be a good friend to me anymore it was better off just cutting those ties and not telling him things that would end up hurting him.
How did it feel to write it?
For so long I was feeling guilty about things, but the friendship was over, so it was better for me to write it and put it in a song.
What’s the ultimate message of the song?
I hope people can take away the idea that sometimes it is best for a relationship to be over. If someone isn’t meant to be your best friend anymore that’s fine. Honestly at first I wanted to give up. I thought everything was over, just in general. For my music career. I didn’t think I had any friends. There was a long period of time where I really gave up and wasn’t doing much of anything at all. It was a lot of laying in bed feeling sorry for myself. Now I’ve reached a point in my life where I absolutely believe it was all for the best and I’m the happiest I’ve been in so long.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned going through this experience?
The most important that I did learn was to be true to myself and be happy with me. I shouldn’t get my validation from my boyfriend telling me the things I should feel. I know the things I feel and I believe in myself.