30 Years And Going Strong

Heather und Kevin
For the past few decades, Max Stalling is known as one of the most high-profile songwriters in Texas. I first received a CD from him around 25 years ago while we were still living in Switzerland. Since then, his song fascinated me and now we have a chance to see him more often here in Texas. Time to finally visit with him to talk about his career.

Bruno Michel: Max, it’s been 32 years since you first grabbed a guitar because you thought it was time to not only consume music, but also to create some of your own. Can you remember the very first song you wrote?  Max Stalling: Long before I started to play guitar, a friend and I wrote a song. It was about going fishing, jumping in the water and realize that when you were back in the boat, your swimming trunks stick to your a… So, we named the song Sticking Butt. It wasn’t that good (laughs) and I remember we kind of copied the melody from somewhere. As far as commercially useful songs, that was probably 13MWZ (a song about Wrangler Jeans) or Polka Ranch (almost a kid’s song about a ranch where cows use their horns as musical instruments).

In the 90’s, before you became a fulltime musician, you worked a day job as food researcher and played gigs at night. Which of the legendary Texas Songwriters had the biggest influence on your songwriting skills? Difficult question. For sure, one influence was by Guy Clark. Then there was the radio station KNON in Dallas. They had a Friday show called Super Roper Redneck Review. Everything they played on this show, from Rusty Wier to Larry Joe Taylore or Tommy Alverson fascinated me. Another big influence was Robert Earl Keen.

The first CD that I received from you was Comfort In The Curves, which I think came back in 1997. On that CD, my favorite was the song I-35. Ever since I followed your music with great interest. Since those days, how to you think your music has evolved? My wife, Heather Starcher-Stalling (part of the band blacktopGYPSY), would tell you that back then I only wrote three types of songs. First, about Ex-Girlfriends, second about homesick songs about me growing up in South Texas, and third a few weird songs. And it seems that today I am writing increasingly in the 3rd category (laughs).

That immediately reminds me of your song Drunk In Mexico. How can you write a seven-minute song about getting drunk and then still remember the entire lyrics? I would have a hard time to remember the first two minutes already (laughter). I have no idea how I can do this. Sometimes I wish I would just forget those lyrics. This is such a stupid song (laughs). But the fans continue to ask for it and if the situation is right, then I still perform it every now and then.

You and Heather are now married for fifteen years. Did the music bring you together? After all, she’s one of the best fiddle players in Texas and also successful with her own band. It was the music, for sure. Otherwise, we probably would have never met. She played fiddle for our best friend, Mark David Manders. I was on the lineup on a cruise, together with Tommy Alverson, Jay Johnson and Ed Burleson and, of course, Mark’s band. Heather and I knew each other from past gigs, but the spark was ignited on that sea cruise.

The legendary Lloyd Maines produced your CD Home To You back in 2010. How important is it, to have a good producer when making an album? It’s absolutely a critical success factor. I would hesitate to do it myself, even though I probably could. I come to the studio with a bag full of ideas and the producer can make things much smoother with his advice. Such as: Leave that out, it’s stupid. Or: Could you imagine to do this like… He enhances your horizon with his immense knowledge that he built in tons of productions. I am a big fan of Lloyd. He’s really legendary.

You played with most of the famous Texas artists. Is there still a dream act that you would like to share the stage with? We recently managed to cross one of those names from the wish list when we got a chance to play a few gigs with Robert Earl Keen. As I mentioned before, he had a big influence on me and my music. Other than that, I would certainly like to play with Willie (Nelson). He’s now in his 90’s and we just lost Loretta Lynn. So, it would be time to make that dream come true. Heck, Willie might not even know who I am but you can always dream, right?

If you could start all over, what would you do different? Wow! Well, everyone has probably a few things that he would do better if there was a chance to start over. I might team up with a manager. Till today, Heather and I do everything by ourselves. That has served us quite well so far, but it’s a lot of work.

But having a management can also change an artist and his music… …or destroy the career if they try to push you in a direction that you don’t want to go. Who knows. But hey, we are here today and that’s a great thing.

What can fans expect regarding new projects? It’s been a while since you put out your album Banquet back in 2015, apart from the 20-year-anniversary issue of Wide Afternoon, which came in 2020. Correct. We also did the album Live At The Mucky Duck “Portmanteau”, which we produced at that legendary venue in Houston. As far as new albums are concerned, I am permanently writing and I have a few new songs ready to go. Heather and I were in the studio and recorded a few duets. At this time, we are thinking about how to issue this new material. Be it as a duet album, an EP, or a few singles.

So, can we say the first half of 2023? I hope so. After all, we already invested quite some money in the recordings (laughs)

Last question: If you were to interview Max Stalling, which question would you ask him that I did not ask? Oh Man, that’s a tricky question. No Idea. Maybe: Why are you doing what you’re doing?

Ok, and the answer? I’m doing this because I was lucky enough to choose songwriter as my profession. Something I really love. Even after all this time it’s still lots of fun to perform and see people being happy. Of course, the business side of the job is wearing you out sometimes. But when I write a new song and see how the audience reacts to it, all the stress becomes irrelevant.

Perfect ending Thank you and all the best.