Wise beyond her years …
At age 22, Sarah Yzkanin is wise beyond her years. It may be because she’s been part of the original music scene in northeastern Pennsylvania for the past seven years, or because she developed an interest in yoga and meditation in her teens. It could be due to her studies at Penn State University as a human development and family studies major with a minor in psychology. Or perhaps, it’s the combination of all these things. Whatever the reason, it’s a joy to sit down for a chat with the Olyphant musician who’s in a great place in her life. In addition to singing and songwriting, Yzkanin is well-known for her skills on guitar and harmonica. She also plays organ, djembe, congas, tambourine and, as she says, a little bit of bass. When she’s not studying or performing, you’ll find her teaching yoga at several studios in Scranton. And, in her spare time, she enjoys gardening, healthy/vegetarian cooking and making herbal products for her online business, Blessed Be Herbal Creations By Sarah. Meet Sarah Yzkanin …
At what age did you become interested in playing music?
I started singing in public when I was 5.
Do you come from a musical family?
Yes. My great aunt sings and both of my grandfathers sang. And then for instrumentation, my great uncle and my second cousin, my first cousin and my brother are all musicians.
Who are some of your musical influences?
Most of the music I listen to is grunge, alternative and classic ’70s rock. My main vocal influences are Paul Rogers from Bad Company, Layne Staley from Alice in Chains, Chris Cornell from Sound Garden, Hope Sandoval from Mazzy Star and Alanis Morisette.
Tell us about some of the bands you’ve performed with in the past.
I’ve been in various projects, but the main one that I was in the longest was my band, Dealer in Wares. That was a blues rock band I started in 2007. I first launched onto the original music scene in December of 2005. I did guest vocals for a band (at the time) called Epitaph. They were a metal cover band. And from there, I was involved in cover bands and wedding bands, and I was in some original rock and progressive rock bands, too.
And now, you’ve launched a solo career.
Now, I’m working with Jim Cullen. We’re doing the Hippie Nation thing. That’s a cover band and it’s a lot of fun. I’m working with very respected people who are very talented, and I’m honored to be working with those guys. With Hippie Nation, I do vocals, harp (harmonica) and percussion. We do ’60s and ’70s covers — we have a great time and people love it. We get a great response. I’m also working with my friend, Matt Schleck. We met at a meditation group and I’ve been doing an original project with him called Jane Demijohn. I’m doing vocals and that’s a lot of fun. Matt calls it “spooky folk music.” It’s all original. And another project I’m working on is a collaboration with my friend, Paul Martin.
Sounds like a lot of fun. Where can we see you play locally?
I’m playing at the Vintage Theater on Friday, Sept. 22 with Jane Demijohn at 8 p.m., and then I’m playing another show with Jane Demijohn at Mission Yoga for First Friday in October. With Hippie Nation, we’re playing on Oct. 6 at the DeNaples Center (The University of Scranton).
It seems that you’ve been entrenched in music your whole life. Did you consider majoring in music when it was time to go to college?
Well, I had all the dreams in the world of becoming a famous musician. Everybody wants to be a rock star (laughs) and I was working on that.
Maybe you will be someday.
Well, that’s what Matt and I have been talking about. We started a band together where there’s no ego. We’re both spiritual people, we have a lot of the Buddhist concepts. We’re open to wherever this goes. If this goes somewhere cool, great. If it doesn’t go anywhere, that’s fine too. So I’m much more fluid and not attached like I was when I was younger. When I was younger, I wanted to be a rock star and I worked really hard. I was playing in bars when I was 16 years old trying to make a name for myself. I had all the dreams in the world and I did think about going to school for music. But, as it turns out, you meet a lot of people you probably wouldn’t have met working in music. I got to know people and came to realize that a lot of times, there’s a correlation between dysfunction and music. Sometimes people with less than perfect circumstances are drawn to music, and I met a lot of dysfunctional families along the way. I started to think, “what would be better for me? To try to understand this family or to jam with this person?” So that sparked another passion in my life – besides music and gardening. I had a love for family functioning. And that’s how I got into my major. I realized I wanted to help people. I also have a love for holistic health. I thought this would be the perfect way to help families and bring in my passions of holistic health, herbalism, yoga, meditation and gardening and Buddhism.
How did you become interested in holistic health?
I got involved with holistic health which embodies yoga, meditation, herbal medicine and gardening when I was 14, and I had just ended a relationship. My whole world as I knew it had been shattered and I was thinking, “What am I going to do with myself?” I had to pick up the pieces and find something else. I was watching a Lipton tea commercial and there was a plant growing out of the ground. At the end of the plant, I remember it spouting out bottles of Lipton tea. I got really angry and jealous (laughs) and I said, “I want to grow tea.” So I got a book called Medicinal Garden and that’s what happened. I got really passionate about herbalism then, and yoga came around the same time. Then I started getting into meditation.
Do you find that people have misconceptions about meditation?
Yes, people do think it’s about clearing the mind. It’s not. It’s observing the mind. If you’re meditating, a thought comes into your head. It could be a good thought, a bad thought, something that’s aggravating you. You let it go. You don’t judge it. And then another thought comes, and you let it go. So it’s non-judgment, non-attachment, non-resistance. That’s what it’s all about.
It’s great that it works for you.
It is. And struggling with depression isn’t easy either. Depression involves lethargy and you have to try to get yourself to be productive and you could slip a lot. So being mindful of that is important.
A lot of people aren’t as open as you are about dealing with depression. Why is important that for you to talk about it?
Well, it might make someone else feel better to know they’re not alone.
You’re in a good place, aren’t you?
Yes. Now I’m in a place where people care about me for me. They respect me as person, as a musician, as a yoga teacher, as a student. I’m with people I respect, and who respect me. It makes me feel really good.
— julie imel
To learn more about Yzkanin, visit www.reverbnation.com/sarahyzkanin.