Ismael Quintanilla III

Chief Cleopatra

Artist of the Month - February, 2022


Her new EP “Luna” releases March the 4th

By Jeff McCord

Chief Cleopatra performs at Stubb’s Waller Creek Outdoor Amphitheater on July 25, 2021

We all start out one thing. For Jalesa Jessie, known to Austinites these days as Chief Cleopatra, she began as a Corsicana kid dabbling in piano, marching in her school’s drum line, listening to a lot of gospel music. Things happen, grab your attention, alter your perceptions. One of the first Jessie remembers is a Smashing Pumpkins video, which helps to explain why her subsequent R&B/funk/hip-hop recordings as Chief Cleopatra have always laid down an underlying rock foundation. Another explanation is the edge of guitarist Leonard Martinez, her musical collaborator she met after relocating to Austin in 2012. And now, there’s her new producer, Austin rocker Walker Lukens. On Luna, out March the 4th on Park the Van Records, producer Lukens helped Cleo discover a new sound. “I’m definitely going in a different direction,” she says. “I feel like it’s more of a universal sound. I think it reaches people on a bigger scale.” Luna is a distinct, unusual brew.

There’s ethereal detailing, a widescreen pop emphasis on songs like “Dreamlights” that are otherwise lyrically intimate. The production is warm, and skirts synthetic dabbling. “I had some of these songs in my pocket,” she explains. “I actually went in and did these songs on GarageBand app, on my phone. ‘Dreamlights’ came from that, it was more of this sonic Santigold industrial feel.” Another of the EP’s standouts, “Fortuity”, features unexpected collaborators, Curtis Roush and Jack O’Brien from the Bright Light Social Hour. Cleo explains how that happened. “I wrote [“Fortuity”] on bass. This wasn’t even a song that was supposed to be on the EP, but Leonard Martinez, he was like, ‘Why don’t you show Walker what you wrote?’ And Walker’s like, ‘This is awesome.’ So on a whim, I said  jokingly, ‘Hey, if you can get Bright Light in here to kind of help play on the song, that would be dope.’ And he was like, ‘OK.’ And I was like, ‘Really?’ I’ve been following them forever. So that was mind-blowing.” Mixing Bright Light’s warbly psychedelics with Cleo’s soul is Luna’s biggest surprise in a work that is full of them. Each of its songs feels carefully nurtured. And Cleo is already planning a full-length album on Park the Van for the near future and hopes to mount a full-scale tour in the fall. For now, her band will play some regional shows in April. She’s anxious to share their new creation. “We’ve been sitting on these songs for almost a year and a half. The anticipation of it coming out and then really, it’s not out yet. Oh man, any song, like I’m really happy. It’s been great to do work with Walker because I put my own ideas into it as well, and we came up with this great moment.”