Broken Beginnings: The Incomplete Story of LEX LEO

There’s no single thing that I want to do; there are lots of things that I want to do. The opportunity to do music came out of nowhere. It just kind of fell into my lap through relationships.

Installment 1 is the name of LEX LEO’s debut album. It’s a cold, seemingly emotionless title that leaves the listener wondering if other installments are on the way. The title itself feels incomplete. That feeling of being incomplete is exactly the territory LEX LEO’s lyrics explore, and the story of the creative journey that led her to making music reveals why that feeling of incompleteness inspired her.

“…flashes of a love that’s fleeting, emotions with no real meaning. When it’s too heavy and your lungs can’t breathe, we’ll walk on the wire, a thread of desire.”

While LEX LEO’s lyrics yearn with loneliness and a wounded insecurity, her vocal performance musters just enough confidence to give us the impression that healing has begun but, like the album’s title, is not complete.

LEX LEO is the pseudonym for Lakeland’s Chantel Munsey. Chantel came to Lakeland to attend Southeastern University from a Northwest Indiana Chicagoland suburb. The daughter of a traveling evangelical family, her creative journey began differently than most.

“When I was younger, my mom and dad had a [evangelical musical theater] production company, and I grew up on stage around music and performing, but I never performed as myself. I was always performing as a character. It’s wild, because when I was young, I had cancer, and I had no hair, and I was fat. I was trying to escape my identity in my personal life, subconsciously I think, through performance. So I threw myself into performing and loved becoming someone else, and I got good at it.”

At age nine, Chantel was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (in one lung completely and 3/4 of the other lung). She was given three weeks to live at the time of diagnosis. Even though treatment wasn’t recommended, she was given the most intense chemotherapy that could legally be given to a 30-year-old as a child. The treatment worked, and the experience of nearly dying and having her body wrecked by the medicines that saved her life caused her to retreat into various creative disciplines that shaped the artist she has become.

“Nine-year-olds don’t know that they’re on the verge of dying, but everyone around you does. You’re this fragile cherub… and everyone wants to spend time with you, to get their selfish moments with you, or love on you. But when you don’t know why that’s happening… you just feel sick, you don’t feel normal… It was a dark time, and [also] the time following that, being healed of cancer, and just being fat, I gained 75 pounds as a nine-year-old, just pumped full of steroids, and I lost all my hair. [By then] I was 11, going right into puberty… That was wild, because being a fat, ugly, bald girl from 11 to 14 would just wreck my confidence, wreck my identity, as if adolescence wasn’t already hard enough… just to add the havoc of a terminal illness and what that can do to you physically, mentally, and emotionally… it was a lot.”

It wasn’t the trauma itself that inspired Chantel to create, but the isolation she felt after the trauma. When the dust settled, when the cancer was gone, she found it impossible to go back to life as it was before and struggled to find anyone who understood.

“From those times came even darker times because I didn’t really appreciate that I was still alive… That’s when I started to write. There were suicidal times. There were morbid, cutting times. There were lots of times where I just didn’t know how to process anything, or talk to anyone about it, because there was no possible way anyone could feel or know how I was feeling, and again, everyone in my world was just so joyous that I was alive.”

Chantel became interested in virtually every creative medium as a way to express these feelings of isolation. She would walk into a room and visualize possible stories that could play out in that room, undoubtedly to escape the story of her own reality. She dreamed of combining her love of poetry, visual art, storytelling, and music by making films, but being from a family of ministers, instead of attending film school, Chantel ended up at Southeastern University (SEU) – a Christian liberal arts university. At school, she quickly found friendships with other creative students and, on a whim, showed some rough song ideas to a friend. Chantel never had any formal musical training and doesn’t play any instruments. Music for her was one of many creative mediums she was dabbling in. The demo made its way to producer, and former SEU student, Evan Eliason. Evan loved the song. Three weeks later, Chantel was working on her first album.

“I would love to create a magazine or write books. There’s no single thing that I want to do; there are lots of things that I want to do. The opportunity to do music came out of nowhere. It just kind of fell into my lap through relationships. Now that I’m pursuing it, I’m surrounded by people who [feel like] this is their dream. They are all living their dream, but I haven’t even had the time or space to dream about how crazy far it could take me, because it just started… But I will follow it wherever it will let me go.”

LKLD, a playlist on Spotify