Earlier this spring, Alex Kinsey and Sierra Deaton were trading stories about the two-week writing camp that yielded their debut album, "It's About Us." The late-hour bursts of boozy creativity and morning hikes under the Malibu sun are discussed, but words like "pressure," "expectations" or "deadlines" don't make it into conversation.
"It was magic," said Deaton, still beaming from the experience. "We imagined one thing, but this wasn't what it was like."
The couple, who perform as Alex & Sierra, are lounging on a couch inside Atom Factory, the Troy Carter-powered management company steering their career. Deaton even whipped up vegan chicken Parmesan for the occasion. While the album plays, they chime in with reactions.
"This is the first song we ever wrote together," says Kinsey, not containing his pride, before "All for You," a jazzy, piano-driven number. They gleefully dance to "Scarecrow," and when the anthemic footstomper "Here We Go" fills the room Deaton yells that she can't wait to perform it at festivals.
At this point, five months had passed since the folk-pop duo from Florida became the first group to win the Fox singing competition "The X Factor" in December (solo acts won the first two seasons). And five more months will pass before the album, out this Tuesday, arrives.
But instead of jumping on the industry hamster wheel that typically follows these shows — rushed post-win single and equally hasty debut — the 23-year-olds decided to wait.
"We didn't just want to have songs handed to us," Kinsey said. It's now late summer, and the couple are on their tour bus unwinding before a gig opening for Train. "We wanted quality stuff and not just something as quick as possible. We were lucky that the label and management were with us."
Adds Deaton: "Rather than striking while the iron's hot, we would rather put out an album a few months later and have it be something we really believe in and we were a part of. We can stand out here and sing these shows and love every second [instead of] singing songs other people wrote for us that we could have gotten out early."
The move is a gamble in the here-today, gone-tomorrow world of pop, particularly for an act that rose to fame on a show for which audiences forget about the winners the moment a new season begins. In addition, after Alex & Sierra's season, "The X Factor" was canceled, having failed to nab viewers or produce talent that made a real splash.
After winning the third and final season of Simon Cowell's series — he served as their mentor, and their prize was a $1-million deal through Sony Music and Cowell's Syco Music — Alex & Sierra started working with songwriters and producers including Julian Bunetta (One Direction), who served as their producer on "X Factor."
Bunetta, who hosted Alex & Sierra's writing camp at his Malibu home, was one of a handful of contributors who also worked with the duo on the show. That familiarity eased them into the songwriting process. Twenty songs were drafted in the first five days of camp, eight of which made the final cut (the duo have writing credits on all but four tracks).
"We could have honestly released an album after those first few days. ... Before we wrote, [the label] wanted to do an EP by Valentine's Day to kind of play on the couple thing," Kinsey says, twisting his face to show his resistance to the idea.
"And then they heard the songs from the camp and said let's wait," Deaton finishes.
Deaton and Kinsey met while still in high school (she was a competitive dancer, he was a solo act) but started performing together just a few years ago, after they began dating as students at the University of Central Florida. They scored a spot on "The X Factor" with a video audition singing the Civil Wars' "Barton Hollow" in front of a rubber ducky shower curtain in Kinsey's dorm.
The duo proved to be one of the show's post popular acts, with inspired covers of Destiny's Child, Britney Spears and Marvin Gaye, which became fixtures on the iTunes singles chart (some even landed at No. 1), selling more than 1 million copies.
"We loved 'X Factor' and the fact that it gave us the opportunity, and we're upset that opportunity isn't there for other people," Kinsey says. "But because the show isn't around, that allegiance is less focused. As sad as it is that it's not around, it's kinda nice that we get to step away from it."
The pair has spent the year hustling like a new act, driving across the country playing a variety of gigs and opening for major acts (Colbie Caillat and Train) while teasing the record with a handful of promo singles. It's how Kinsey and Deaton prefer it.
"We don't want to just get one album out and everyone forgets about us," Deaton offered. "We don't want to be a flash in the pan that lasts for a second."