© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Your backstage pass to Northeast Ohio's independent music scene.

Cleveland musician Grace Sullivan finds her voice as Wish Queen

Grace Sullivan poses in front of a mirror
Alison Scarpulla
Wish Queen's debut album, "Saturnalia," drops Oct. 27. Grace Sullivan and a band of collaborators developed the dream-pop music from Sullivan's once-private songs.

In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, which quieted music venues around the world, 30-year-old Cleveland singer-songwriter Grace Sullivan found her voice.

What was once a personal exploration of melodies hidden away in voice memos on her phone has blossomed into a journey of self-discovery and artistic expression.

Sullivan adopted the moniker Wish Queen, akin to superstars like Beyoncé using the name Sasha Fierce or David Bowie performing as Ziggy Stardust to represent another side of themselves on stage.

“I wanted... this alter ego that was separate from me and someone who didn't have all the hang-ups and insecurities that I have,” Sullivan said. “Now I'm Wish Queen, and she has it together. And she's this higher force, and she's this creative muse.”

Sullivan releases her debut album as Wish Queen on Oct. 27 and plays an album release show at the Grog Shop on Oct. 29 at 7 p.m.

Testing the waters in music

Sullivan first dabbled in music during college at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, privately writing poems and songs.

Grace Sullivan aka Wish Queen poses with flowers
Alison Scarpulla
Grace Sullivan poses behind a mass of flowers. The Cleveland-based singer-songwriter said releasing her original music felt too vulnerable until the pandemic and astrology inspired her to do some soul-searching and adopt an alter ego.

“I think I was so in my head about it and had all these limiting beliefs about my own music that I was like, O.K., this is something I'm just going to do for myself,” she said.

She studied film, where she felt more comfortable putting herself next to art instead of creating it and releasing it to the public.

“I was too afraid to be so vulnerable... expose my own heart and my own art in that way,” she said.

Sullivan began working behind the scenes at the Cleveland International Film Festival when the pandemic hit in 2020. It was during this time that, like many people around the world, she began reflecting on what she truly wanted.

“It really wasn't until the whole film festival industry was in turmoil that I was sitting with myself and thinking, ‘Oh, I also have a story to tell,’” Sullivan said.

A friend reached out to Sullivan, mentioning they knew someone looking for a singer for their band.

Sullivan liked the idea of singing cover songs and thought it would be a good outlet for expressing herself musically without exposing her secret songs to audiences.

“It was kind of kismet at that moment," she said. “As soon as I started doing it, it was like I dipped my toe in the water. And I just got totally sucked in, and I couldn't do anything else.”

She sang in the cover band for about a year but kept feeling the pull to write more of her own music.

Sullivan began recording voice memos on her phone as sketches of songs, but since she didn’t play an instrument, she brought in several different musicians to flesh out her melodies.

“We tried a little bit like heavier alternative rock, a little bit slower, more acoustic,” she said.

Still searching for her niche, she collaborated with friend Zach Taneyhill from the Cleveland experimental band Radderall, and the seeds for Wish Queen were sown.

“We spent an entire night just fleshing it out, and he built all these really gorgeous dream-pop synths around it. We didn't really know the direction it was going in. But the end of the night, we listened to the demo we laid down and we were like, ‘This is pretty good,’” She said. “I felt really understood and seen creatively.”

Sullivan said she loves “shimmery, gentle, sweet, slow, drum-based music,” and after collaborating with Taneyhill, that was how she wanted her original songs to sound.

“It felt like the melody and the lyrics that I've been writing found a home,” she said.

Developing her artistry after an astrological event

Sullivan and Taneyhill released the song they worked on together, titled “Coast to Coast,” in 2021 and received overwhelmingly positive feedback. After the song’s success, other artists began reaching out to Sullivan about working on music together.

She formed a band, which includes producer Austyn Benyak. The two began recording songs in his garage. Sullivan adopted her Wish Queen alter ego during this time, and her journey with music began to take off. She credited astrology and her Saturn return in 2020 as a driving force behind her soul searching and transformation.

“Your Saturn return happens about every 27 years, and it's when Saturn comes back to the place it was when you were born. It's known as the full maturation of your chart. If you're not in line with your destiny, everything kind of falls away,” she said. It can be a really tumultuous time of change and growth.”

"Now I'm Wish Queen, and she has it together. And she's this higher force, and she's this creative muse."
Grace Sullivan

She said the intensity of the pandemic coinciding with her Saturn return, as well as turning 30, led to a deeper understanding of herself. As she continued writing and developing more of her original songs, she conceptualized an entire album inspired by her Saturn return. 

Sullivan and her band recorded each track during the summer of 2022, and the resulting sound is a blend of Stevie Nicks and Billie Holiday with Beach House and art pop.

“Saturnalia" is named for an ancient Roman festival that celebrates the god Saturn.

Sullivan said the album serves as a duality, much like herself and her alter ego, with the first half representing heartbreak and the latter end being more upbeat.

“It's full of sorrow and longing, but through the journey of the album, the second half really opens up into this brighter, more energetic and expansive view,” she said.

The album is about grieving, healing, growing and thriving, she said.

It represents her story of coming out of the shadows to release her art to the world after a period of great change and transition.

“Anyone who is feeling lost or feels like their life is in a freefall or going through their Saturn return, whether or not they are going through their Saturn return, any sort of transition or period of change or heartbreak or turmoil. I feel like this is who this album is for,” Sullivan said.

Expertise: Audio storytelling, journalism and production
Brittany Nader is the producer of "Shuffle" on Ideastream Public Media. She joins "All Things Considered" host Amanda Rabinowitz on Thursdays to chat about Northeast Ohio’s vibrant music scene.