Grace Sullivan’s Wish Queen comes into full bloom on her dreamy ‘Saturnalia,’ an enchanting, all-consuming coming-of-age debut album channeling self-actualization into sweet dream pop reveries and brooding indie folk reflections.
for fans of Weyes Blood, Beach House, Ethel Cain
Stream: “Grievances” – Wish Queen
I eventually just had to surrender to that and accept that Wish Queen is very much me. And just like me, she isn’t perfect and she makes mistakes and she grieves and she grows.
Grace Sullivan’s primary goal in crafting Wish Queen’s debut album was to create a dreamy world – an ethereal sonic wonderland full of possibility – and the end result is nothing short of extraordinary. Saturnalia is a celebration; a release; a redemption; and a reckoning. Wish Queen comes into full bloom through an enchanting, all-consuming coming-of-age record, channeling self-actualization into sweet dream pop reveries and brooding indie folk reflections that are as memorable as they are moving.
Late nights on the computer
I wish my skin was smoother
I wish I started sooner
Do they think I’m a loser?
And can you see right through her?
You’re not who I thought you were
And I don’t even know why
And I don’t even know why
I hurts too much, I can’t cry
And I don’t even know why
– “Grievances,” Wish Queen
Independently released October 27, 2023, Saturnalia is an intimate, enveloping, and deeply evocative introduction to Wish Queen. The moniker for Cleveland-based singer/songwriter Grace Sullivan, Wish Queen is an escape, an indulgence, and a mirror – both to our own lives, and to Sullivan herself. Her songs are a mix of diary entries, difficult conversations, emotional upheavals, necessary confrontations, and more – all candid, cathartic, and uncompromisingly vulnerable moments of connection, liberation, and self-empowerment.
“I knew I wanted to create a dreamlike ‘Wish Queen World’ with synths and soundscapes, and that’s pretty much all I knew,” Sullivan tells Atwood Magazine. That vision remained intact throughout, whilst she discovered who Wish Queen really was: “At first, I was really trying to approach this project with the understanding that Wish Queen was separate from me; she was this higher power who had it all together, who could transport people to a different time and place. She could ‘make wishes come true.’”
“But the more I write, the more my very personal experiences, fears, and frustrations keep coming through. So I eventually just had to surrender to that and accept that Wish Queen is very much me. And just like me, she isn’t perfect and she makes mistakes and she grieves and she grows.”
Sullivan connected with local producer Austyn Benyak, who helped her make that vision a reality. “I’d been carrying around all these songs for a while, looking for the right way to breathe life into them,” she recalls. “And everything started to click when I met Austyn. I don’t think either one of us can say why, but we both felt pulled together, like we had to make this record. And we didn’t have a lot to work with. He had a basic setup in a garage, and I had what felt like a jumbled blend of random lyrics and melodies. We didn’t really know what we were after at first.”
“But as we started working together in the summer of 2022, something really special started to form, and we just kept following the threads. I didn’t really know what the theme of the album was going to be until it became blindingly obvious. A lot of people in the industry told me to start with singles or an EP, to build my presence that way, but I needed to make a full record. I really felt like I had to. I still don’t know if that was ‘correct,’ but it was necessary.”
She continues, “One thing I am very proud of in this album is that, for better or for worse, I recorded nearly all of my own vocals. And I really didn’t know what I was doing, and I taught myself along the way. There are certain things I would do differently now, and will do differently in future projects, but I feel very proud of that. One thing I was able to explore while recording my own vocals was a lot of trial and error with vocal harmonies and overlapping verses throughout the songs. I think it has become sort of Wish Queen signature, and turned out to be something I really loved doing, and I’d love to continue with that and refine that technique.”
Sullivan describes Saturnalia as an honest, shimmering, and transformative record. The name brings astrology together with Ancient Roman customs and her own coming-of-age.
“I wrote this album in the midst of my Saturn Return, which, if you’re familiar with astrology, you may know is when Saturn comes back to the place it was when you were born,” she explains. “It’s known as the full maturation of your chart, when you shed the ‘learning phase’ and come into who you are.”
“Because I wrote this album in the throes of my Saturn Return, and a lot of those themes are present throughout, I knew I wanted to make the title an ode to Saturn. And one of my friends casually mentioned this ancient Roman festival called Saturnalia one day, and I and loved the word and decided to look more into it. The festival honored the god Saturn and was all about breaking free from societal norms, which seemed appropriate. And then it stuck.”
My luck’s been running out for years
I think I’ve cried out all my tears
I wished for you, and you appeared
And now, you’ve shattered all my fears
– “Intro (I Wished for You),” Wish Queen
Highlights abound on the journey from Saturnalia’s five-minute “Intro” – an intimate scene-setting opener – to its powerfully tranquilizing finale, “10:24.” Previously featured on Atwood Magazine, second track “Grievances” is a beautiful, soul-on-sleeve dream pop enchantment: The kind of cathartic inner reckoning, driven by strong, seductive vocals and drenched in dreamy instrumental harmony, that leaves listeners stunned, stirred, and utterly enraptured. Wish Queen doesn’t so much “wish” for a change, but rather finds strength within to bring it about herself as she dives deep into herself, confronting all those demons that keep her from realizing her full potential.
“This deliciously angsty song is shrouded in these beautiful synths and shimmering guitar layers,” Sullivan smiles (it’s a favorite of hers as well). “And then you’re dancing in your car with the windows down while singing about the worst parts of being alive right now. And its healing. And I hope it’s something other people will be able to find some solace in.” Emotionally charged and sonically spellbinding, “Grievances” leaves it all on the table; wallowing thought it may seem, this track is a resounding, empowering eruption from the depths lying deep within us all.
Further standouts include the moody, seductive (and achingly evocative) sonic blanket “Magic,” the breathtakingly tender, cinematic, and thought-provoking “Time,” and the buoyant, bustling, and beautiful “Coast to Coast,” a reprise of the debut single Wish Queen first released in 2021 with fellow Clevelander, RADDERALL.
The latter is one of Sullivan’s favorites these days, too. “I’ve been through phases of loving different parts of different songs, but right now, I’m really feeling the building vocal harmonies in ‘Coast to Coast,’” she smiles. “This song is about looking at my relationship patterns and cycles of heartbreaks, and breaking free. Realizing that the choices I’ve made so far have given me this time to reflect and to grow, to be on my own, and that it actually has been a gift. I wouldn’t be where I am without those experiences. ‘Coast to Coast’ reframes heartbreak as redirection. It’s the “aha moment” of the album.”
Captivating from start to finish, Saturnalia is a soul-stirring seduction of the ears, the mind, and the heart.
Wish Queen’s first foray into the world proves a resounding success – and it’s worth mentioning that Grace Sullivan absolutely met her goal of creating a dreamlike world through these eight utterly intoxicating songs. Intimate and immersive, Saturnalia is a land of ethereal enchantment and inspiring introspection we can always lean on for support, guidance, and best of all, a good time.
Because there’s nothing like dancing your feet off as you cry to your heart’s content.
“I hope listeners can take away that we’re all in this experience of love and sorrow and growth and learning together,” Sullivan shares. “And that even when things feel hopeless, if you sit with a feeling long enough, it changes into something else. And to learn how to enjoy the process of change and healing, because its really hard, but it’s also beautiful. That’s what I’m taking away from creating it. And I know its something I’m going to forget and re-remember over and over again because that’s life too.”
Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Wish Queen’s Saturnalia with Atwood Magazine as Grace Sullivan goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of her debut album!
Stream: ‘Saturnalia’ – Wish Queen
:: Inside Saturnalia ::
In the very early stages of conceptualizing this album, this is the first song that came to me and sparked the whole concept. It’s strange because, in a way, I feel like I didn’t write this song, it just popped into my head one day pretty fully formed. I loved the idea of having a trance-like “bridge” that would carry listeners into the rest of the album. That’s how I see “Intro,” as a bridge into Saturnalia.
Grievances was originally a song I’d written for an old band I was in. But at the time it was slower, some of the lyrics were different, and it was called “Long Drive.” It took me a while to sit with this song because it really felt like a purge of everything I had to overcome to create this album, and that took a minute to move through. All the insecurities and overthinking, getting in my own way. I had to make this song so I could make this album.
I wish I could say this song was about a concept and not a lived experience. Watching someone you love fall out of love with you is a horrible emotional prison. And while a lot of people have gone through this, I’ve never heard another song describe it quite in this way before, so it felt like an important song to write.
So Prophecy is the point where the journey of the album starts to turn. With Grievances, we’re mourning our state of mind, and the state of the world. Magic, we’re mourning a dying relationship. And with Prophecy, we’re starting to tap into this wiser knowing. That even in the throes of heartbreak and sorrow, we can recognize a part of ourselves that knew something was wrong the whole time. And we can start tapping into this wisdom to carry us out of this grief. And I say we because I visualize everyone listening to this album on this journey with me, welcome.
Time passes, healing isn’t linear. We might find ourselves going to our exe’s apartment a few times after the relationship is over. Wasting time with someone we know isn’t right for us. Repeating old patterns. I adore the instrumentation in this song. The piano and the violin capture the time and space of this feeling perfectly.
I wrote this album in the midst of my Saturn Return. Which, if you’re familiar with astrology, you may know is when Saturn comes back to the place it was when you were born. It’s known as the full maturation of your chart, when you shed the “learning phase” and come into who you are. I remember in the midst of making the same mistakes and feeling stuck and lost, I was just praying for my Saturn Return, or any type of change to lift me out of where I was, and I put those feelings into this song.
Coast to Coast
And then comes the shift we’ve been waiting and praying for. This version of Coast to Coast is a “reprise” of a previous song I wrote with RADDERALL in 2021, the first song I wrote as “Wish Queen.” This song is about looking at my relationship patterns and cycles of heartbreaks, and breaking free. Realizing that the choices I’ve made so far have given me this time to reflect and to grow, to be on my own, and that it actually has been a gift. I wouldn’t be where I am without those experiences. Coast to Coast reframes heartbreak as redirection. It’s the “aha moment” of the album.
And then we reframe further with 10:24. Recognizing that all cycles of heartbreak and healing, as well as planetary cycles like the Saturn Return, are part of the larger circular nature of the universe. And that even when things seem hopeless, whether it’s in our personal lives or within the failing systems we’re all trying to operate within, it’s all part of a larger cycle that is beyond our understanding. “10:24” deals with a lot of the same themes of “Grievances,” but this time, through the lens of learned wisdom, zooming out and seeing ourselves as part of the larger, beautiful, mysterious workings of the life cycles. I don’t know if you can make it out but the voice in the very beginning of the song is saying, “I mean I still feel the same way I did in the beginning. I think now, I can see the bigger picture.”
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© Tessa Smith
:: Stream Wish Queen ::