“Every time you save a spider you get to make a wish.” With such a heartwarming statement, we are introduced to the soulful story of the Wish Queen, also known as Grace Sullivan. The Cleveland-based singer/songwriter’s journey has been one of introspection, self-discovery, and healing, finding her voice amid life’s uncertainties and embracing her alter-ego, Wish Queen. From moments of vulnerability in her youth to a renaissance during her Saturn Return, Grace’s path underscores the transformative power of music.
While most contemporary music dazzles with bombastic beats and catchy hooks, Wish Queen’s debut LP ‘Saturnalia‘ stands out like a beacon for those seeking authenticity. It’s a bit like balm for the soul—a wonderful collection of tracks that distance themselves from the stomping radio pop we’ve grown accustomed to. The hauntingly beautiful melodies, such as in “10:24,” showcase a raw talent far removed from the mainstream. A listen evokes a goosebumps feeling, akin to stepping into a world both known and yet so mystically unfamiliar.
“Finding your people, loving them, and letting yourself be loved,” Grace mentions, sharing her perspective on life. And these words reflect the essence of her music—a blend of genuine emotions, love, longing, and a touch of mysticism. The EP ‘Saturnalia’ is emblematic of this, making listeners feel an array of emotions ranging from desire to introspection.
In our interview, we dive deeper into Grace’s artistic journey and growing up as a theater kid, the impact of celestial cycles on her life and uncover the hidden stories behind her mesmerizing tracks. Additionally, we’re thrilled to premiere the album on C-Heads, so be sure to give it a listen below.
photography by Alison Scarpulla
What inspired you to choose the name “Wish Queen” as your alter-ego?
I’d been searching for a name for this project for a while, and I eventually gave up and was waiting for something to fall in my lap, and luckily, it pretty much did. I letting a spider outside and said something like, every time you save a spider you get to make a wish, and my friend Zach said, “Ok, Wish Queen” and we all just paused for a second and I was like, “That’s it” And then I wrote down “Wish Queen’s birthday” in my phone calendar. It was May 23, 2021. She’s a Gemini.
At first I visualized her as this fairy godmother type entity separate from myself that could “make wishes come true,” but the more I sit with her, the more I feel my identity very much tangled up with what I thought was an alter-ego. And this other meaning of the word ‘wish’ is starting to reveal itself to be more of a longing, more regret, more dreaming. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what that means, maybe both ways of defining her can be true. Maybe they’re two sides of the same coin.
Can you tell us more about your journey as an artist, from your early days to now as Wish Queen?
Growing up I was a big theater kid. Always in plays, always singing, always in dance classes. I always wanted to be onstage in this really bold way. I grew up in a house full of sisters who loved to sing. My Dad had a rule, “no singing at the dinner table.” We all sang all the time anyway. Just constant belting. My poor dad.
But as I grew older, I became more shy about sharing about performing in front of people. I lost some of that spark for a while. I think I was hyper aware of how I was being perceived, and the fear of being perceived “wrong” caused me to collapse into myself, and to hide. I felt more comfortable writing poetry alone, sharing it with a select few, and expressing myself in that way. I held things more closely to my heart then. But moving further away from the dreams I held as a little girl made me really sad. I’d break down crying every now and then, telling myself it was too late.
But everything changed in 2020, as it did for a lot of people. I was going through a breakup, I lost my job, and it was the first time I really had the chance to sit with myself and to figure out what I wanted. And I wanted to sing. And faced with the possibility of, what felt like the world ending at the time, without ever having shared my voice and my writing lit this fire that had been dormant for a while. And I hit the ground running.
I started singing for a cover band “Silver June,” thinking that would be enough, just a little side gig playing in bars on the weekends. And it was so much fun, but as soon as I broke free of that fear of singing live, it was all I wanted to do. I got fully sucked in, and I really wanted to share my own music. I wasn’t afraid anymore. And the vision started forming, piece by piece. It took me a while to find the right producer for Wish Queen, but I met Austyn Benyak one day through a mutual friend, and we really clicked. He was the first person who really understood what I was after, and we spent the summer of 2022 writing and recording these songs in his garage and it was the single most creatively fulfilling experience I’ve ever had.
And then, starting with a craigslist ad, I somehow managed to pull a band together to play the songs live, and suddenly I had a real project. Austyn is in the band and he plays drums, Ryan Fletterick is on guitar, and Andy Schumann is on bass. I love my band so much, I wouldn’t be able to do this without them.
“Don’t hold yourself back with comparisons. And don’t hold yourself back by being afraid to look stupid. Also, it isn’t too late.”
Has your hometown, Cleveland, influenced your artistic development?
Cleveland has a really beautiful and supportive indie music scene. Growing up, I was always intimidated by all the ‘cool kids’ at the indie music shows. But when I started creating Wish Queen, I received so much support and kindness from so many people. I feel so grateful to have created this within this community.
Your biography mentions turning to more spiritual ways to heal yourself. Can you share some of the spiritual practices or beliefs that have had an impact on your life?
I find the most spiritual connections through spending time in nature and through paying attention to cycles; the cycles of the moon, the seasons, astrological cycles. These themes really inspired Saturnalia.
I study astrology and tarot. I have prophetic dreams sometimes… all the witchy girl things, but I just try to stay really open to signs and patterns. I’m still learning.
What role does music play in your own life for healing and self-expression?
Before I started sharing my music, I suffered from debilitating panic attacks that really held me back. For a while I really didn’t even know if I was going to be able to lead a normal life. They would often manifest as a feeling of not being able to breathe, or like my throat was closing. I can’t tell you exactly why, but I haven’t had a single panic attack since I started pursuing music. It really changed my entire nervous system. I still feel nervous sometimes when I get onstage, but it’s more exhilarating than terrifying.
“I would love to create music for a film, what a dream.”
“Saturnalia” explores themes like earthly cycles, heartbreak, and coming of age. How did you approach translating these themes into music?
All my songs start the same way, with me basically singing nonsense to myself either in the car or in the shower, anywhere I can be alone with my own thoughts. And then I hear a little phrase of something that feels worth following. I’ll sit with it for a few days and piece it together in my mind. And then I flesh the lyrics out from there.
When I set up to record an album, I had no idea what the theme was going to be. I just kept writing songs and started to notice the throughlines over time. I definitely knew heartbreak was a huge theme in my songs, but I don’t think I realized how important cycles and self actualization would be in the album. It turned out to be the whole point, and that was a beautiful surprise.
You’ve already released the track “Grievances” from the album, which is one of my favorites. I somehow feel a lot when I listen to the track; it evokes a movie within me, one of those that tell stories about people. Would making music for a film be something you’d consider?
First of all, thank you, that means a lot to hear. I would love to create music for a film, what a dream. I actually went to film school and worked in the film industry for a while so that would be a very full circle way to bring in all my experiences.
“I haven’t had a single panic attack since I started pursuing music.”
Are there any particular tracks on the album that hold special significance to you, and why?
Each one is very special to me, but I think the one I keep coming back to is “Time”. It really encapsulates a very specific time and place for me, that maybe other people can connect with. At the time I wrote the song, the relationship I was in had technically already ended, but I kept going back to see him “one last time,” over and over again. I’ve never been good with goodbyes. And I felt like I was trapping myself in this endless limbo. This endless pain. So one of these “last times” I went over there, I decided to record audio on my phone and set it by the window, so that I didn’t forget what being in purgatory felt like. It picked up sounds of us talking, the same tired conversations, and sounds of the summer street outside. And then I wrote a song on top of it about feeling time pass as you watch yourself make the wrong choices. The whole time I felt like I was watching myself from the outside, and that’s what I tried to capture. The lyrics come in towards the end of the song, after this beautiful instrumental build with Austyn on piano and my friend Devin Copfer on violin. It still makes me cry.
What was the most enjoyable part of creating this album for you?
Watching the songs that have for so long existed only in my head come to life has been so cool. I’m kind of blown away we pulled it off. I don’t play an instrument, I don’t really understand music theory, so I just had to sing my little melodies to Austyn and describe what I was seeing for each song. Incredibly, he captured the vision every time. His instrumentation and production brought a life to these songs I never knew was possible. I love mind melding with him. That was the most enjoyable part.
What advice would you give to emerging artists trying to find their place in the competitive music scene?
Trust your gut. Be true to yourself. Don’t hold yourself back with comparisons. And don’t hold yourself back by being afraid to look stupid. Also, it isn’t too late. Someone out there is dying for your sound.
The most important thing in life?
Finding your people, loving them, and letting yourself be loved. Carving out space for beauty.
And rescuing animals.
So true! Thank you so much for your time!
Check out Saturnalia here: distrokid.com/hyperfollow/wishqueen/saturnalia