Lyric Contest Winner Ryan T. Miller Discusses His 1st Place Song, “The Captain’s Son”

“My head is always spinning with new tunes or lyrics everywhere I go.”

Ryan T. Miller of Oxford, Mississippi. Photo courtesy the artist

1st Place
“The Captain’s Son”
Ryan T. Miller
Oxford, Mississippi

Ryan T. Miller won the November/December 2018 lyric contest for his song “The Captain’s Son.” (You can read his winning lyrics here.) We recently chatted with Miller about the song, his writing habits, and the artists that inspire him.

How did the song “The Captain’s Son” come about? 

I wrote the lyrics to “The Captain’s Son” in the wake of losing my father in April of 2016. He and I were involved in a car accident. I walked away. He didn’t. That reality changes a son in ways that are hard to understand. He was always a source of guidance, wisdom, encouragement, and love throughout my life and the absence of those things since our accident is very sobering for me. Everybody called him Captain because of his 25 years of service in the Coast Guard and because the man never did anything unless it helped someone other than himself. He was a servant leader at heart and I wrote the song to describe my struggle with the reality that he wasn’t here to guide me anymore. However, my dad was a man with a strong faith and a calm hand. That combination of things gives me hope which, I think, is also reflected in the song. 

Have you written music for this song? If so, how would you describe it?

I have written a tune for the song, but I’m always working with it. I think it’s a tune that pushes the listener to think through grief as well as hope in other things.  I would describe the tone as hauntingly hopeful.

How long have you been writing songs? Do you have a tried and true writing process that you typically follow?

I have been writing songs since I was a little boy. I was raised in a musical home and that directly impacted me so that I could never “turn off that musical switch.” My head is always spinning with new tunes or lyrics everywhere I go. I carry a little book around to write down lyrics as they come to me, and my phone is also filled with voice memos of tunes that come to mind as I travel around the country. Most have lines drawn through them, but every now and then, a good song comes together. I wouldn’t say I have a “tried and true” writing process, but as I get older I have learned that it takes a lot of time, patience, and a great deal of practice. There is always room for improvement and I hope I’m never done getting better. It is a joy to grow in that way.

Do you ever collaborate or co-write with fellow songwriters?

Absolutely! In fact, I think if you’re not writing with others, you’ll never grow as a songwriter or a musician. I am very blessed to have some good friends and colleagues who love to explore the thread of a new song with me. We get to discover it together and that is always rich, regardless of whether we have a tight song or not at the end of that process.

Is there a line from the song that you’re particularly proud of?

I think the lyrics of “The Captain’s Son” that I love the most are “I can feel the ancient tension running deep beneath her keel, the fight between the fathoms and the give within her wheel.” I wrote this line thinking about how the loss of my father is a life struggle that is hidden and deep. The tension it has created often comes to the surface in ways that impact me in daily routines. But I also love the line, “And yet behind the stern, somewhere distant in the night, the sun begins to chase the moon, the dawn will bring the light.” Night always yields to morning. Somehow, storms don’t seem nearly as overwhelming when you can see where you’re going.    

Who are some of your favorite songwriters, and why?

Over the years, I have always been enamored with songs written by folks like Hal Ketchum, James McMurtry, and Mac McAnally. They have the unbelievable skill of writing lyrics that tell incredible stories and couple them with tunes that put those stories into motion for me. But I am also captivated by younger folks like Trent Dabbs and Rayland Baxter. I always marvel in the poetic ways in which they write.

What are the goals for your songwriting?

To say I wouldn’t love to have a career in writing would be a lie. But at the end of the day, I guess I just want to grow as a writer. That means being able to collaborate more, step outside my comfort zone and be challenged.