Texas songwriter Max Stalling on the transition from snack food development to singing
By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
There are some similarities between deciding how much salt is enough on snack chips and how many syllables sound right in a chorus.
Ask Max Stalling: He's done both.
"The Pila Song" (live), Max Stalling
The Dallas-based singer-songwriter — who'll return to Amarillo for a 10 p.m. Friday show at Hoots Pub, 2424 Hobbs Road; cover is $12, and Adam Hood will open — left a comfortable position as a "snack food scientist" for Frito-Lay to take up life as a full-time Texas troubadour more than 15 years ago.
"It just kind of happened," Stalling said. "The process of becoming a singer-songwriter rather than research scientist became unstoppable at one point, something I needed to do. I walked away from a great company, working with a lot of great people, to working for myself and doing this."
Stalling worked for a couple of different food companies before landing at Frito-Lay. Over the course of his food career, he worked on such products as General Mills' Snack'Ums, bagels and the ill-fated olestra, a calorie-free synthetic cooking oil that flamed out rather spectacularly.
"That wound up having a lot of bad press," Stalling said wryly. "When the warning labels got put on there, which I don't feel like they should — I just think if you eat a whole bag of regular potato chips you're going to have the same problem as if you eat a whole bag of olestra potato chips, if you catch my drift."
Over the years, Stalling said he found there were parallels between tinkering with snack foods and crafting catchy tunes.
"They're both a creative process," Stalling said. "My wife and stepson call me 'Curious George' because I'll be walking along and see something that catches my eye and just stare at it. ... I guess you hav to have some element of creativity to see ... things that don't look like they go together but they do, and I think songwriting is like that sometimes, particularly the wordplay portion of all that."
"Last Dog" (live), Max Stalling
In 1995, Stalling began the process of self-financing his debut album, Comfort in the Curves, released two years later. At the time, he was still working for Frito-Lay, which eventually let him move to a four-day schedule and still keep his full-time benefits.
"By the time I was ready to roll out the second record (Wide Afternoon in 2000), I was just looking for the right timing (to leave the company)," he said. "But there was a lot of personal angst. My mom and dad in particular weren't wild on the concept after spending all that money on two degrees at Texas A&M.
"This seems kind of cliché, but honestly, what happened on 9/11 at the World Trade Center ... that cemented it for me," he said. "I wanted to go give this a try if the window was still open, and if it didn't work out, I was still young enough to get in the window back into corporate America."
He never crawled back through that window: Since then, he has released four more albums, including last year's Banquet.
His latest single is "Night's Pay in My Boot," a tune crafted with Texas country peers Mark David Manders and Jason Boland.
"Mark, he's the guy I blame — and I chose that word specifically — for getting me in the music business," Stalling said. "He was one of the first other aspiring songwriters I knew. ... And Boland is somebody I've known from the scene over the years.
"Mark and I have written together a goodly amount, and we always vet each other's material prior to going into the studio. ... He had been working with me on the verses of this one," Stalling said. "He just amazes me with his ability to put words together.
"With Boland, I had thrown the concept over the fence to Jason and asked if he wanted to tinker with it," Stalling continued. "Mark and I get together with beers and sit down and write, and Boland and I got on the phone, texting lyrics and guitar riffs back and forth. It was a pretty cool process."
"Night's Pay in My Boot," Max Stalling