Van Sounds

Fil Corbitt sits on the roof of his 1995 Toyota pickup, which hit 300,000 miles during a June trip.

Fil Corbitt sits on the roof of his 1995 Toyota pickup, which hit 300,000 miles during a June trip.

Photo/Jeri Chadwell-Singley

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Shortly after Fil Corbitt graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2013, he packed up to go on tour with Buster Blue—one of seven bands the 25-year-old musician has been a member of. In August of that year, his podcast, Van Sounds, was born. What started as a way to chronicle a touring band’s experiences has since evolved into an exploration of the parallels Corbitt finds between music and travel.

“I think that there’s this value that both music and travel can convey, and I think they convey a similar importance, in that it’s about finding new things, experiencing new things, connecting with other people, connecting with other places,” he said.

Corbitt first encountered this complementary relationship while hitchhiking across the country, years before he left on tour with Buster Blue. “I was playing music with people in a lot of places and was finding that that was clearly the best way to connect with people was to play music with them,” he said. “I was looking for … a way to connect not only to other people, but to myself and to where I was from and to my sense of place, and it just seemed like music made the most sense in making that happen.”

Corbitt started playing the banjo because it was easier to travel with than his first instrument, the drums. In 2012, after deciding that the traditional banjo was still too heavy for travel, Corbitt built a two-pound banjo. “It’s this little, durable, super lightweight piece of machinery that I can just throw in my backpack and just take off,” he said.

After Corbitt left Buster Blue in 2013, he took his travel banjo to Peru, the Grand Canyon and New England. Stories from these experiences combine with carefully selected songs from Corbitt’s musician friends and bands to make up some of the early episodes of Van Sounds.

In December, Corbitt released the last in a series of episodes about a week-long trip he and a friend took last June. “It’s just a six-part series, where a friend and I rolled one die and then drove in a direction based on what the die landed on,” he said.

His description doesn’t do justice to the listener experience, which unfolds with the pace of a good novel set to music. It does, however, reinforce a theme that listeners will encounter throughout Corbitt’s body of work—the idea that walking away from a journey without having learned a distinct lesson is OK.

“There is this idyllic travel narrative,” Corbitt said, using the example of a Van Sounds episode in which he hopped a freight train across Nevada. “You know, there’s this beautiful story where you go out, and you travel, and you come home, and you’re changed, and you’re on the train, playing the banjo and that kind of thing. In reality, you get on the train. It’s too fucking loud. You can’t hear anything. It’s cold. It’s windy. You’re still having the time of your life, but you’re like sad and in pain and it’s too loud.”

These days, Corbitt works as a broadcast technician at UNR’s Reynolds School of Journalism. He still travels extensively during winter and summer breaks and hopes to someday turn podcasting into a career. The months between traveling, Corbitt spends playing with his newest band, People with Bodies, and creating new episodes of Van Sounds from the audio collected during previous road trips. The next destination on his list is Brazil.

“I’m into a handful of Brazilian bands, so that seems to be like the next frontier,” Corbitt said. “Every time I get into a certain culture or certain type of music or bands from a place, I like to go there and figure out why I like it.”