Few people can say they’ve played in a rock band, starred in an award-winning TV show, and acted in Hollywood films. Creed Bratton has done all of these things—and more. In the 1960s, he was a guitarist and vocalist for the Grass Roots, whose song “Let’s Live for Today” soared to popularity during the Summer of Love. Later on, he appeared on The Office as a fictionalized version of himself who grew beans in a desk drawer and ran a “small fake I.D. company” on the side. At different points in his life, he’s also owned 15 dogs, broken his eardrum while scuba-diving, and traveled to Romania for a film (The Sisters Brothers, a Western that’s slated for release sometime soon).
Bratton’s current project is While the Young Punks Dance, his seventh full-length solo record. Recently, he talked to us about it on the phone. He also shared a memory of Marc Bolan, chatted about the Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain music festival, and gave some quality life advice. Read all about it below.
TYF: So, “Let’s Live for Today”… I consider that one of my favorite songs.
Creed Bratton: Oh, my gosh. Warren [Entner, another guitarist and vocalist in the Grass Roots] and I wrote a song called “Beatin’ Round the Bush.” That was the first song that he and I recorded. And the next song was “Live for Today.” We had Hal Blaine on drums, and Bobby Ray was playing bass, and P.F. Sloan playing guitar, and Warren and I were playing guitar and we sang harmony, and Rob [Grill, lead vocalist of the Grass Roots] sang the lead. And we had no idea it was going to be as big as it did.
TYF: That’s so great.
Bratton: So are we talking today about The Office or music or a little of both?
TYF: I was planning on talking about a little bit of both, but mostly music.
Bratton: Perfect, that’s great, that’s great.
TYF: First of all, I wanted to chat about your new album, While the Young Punks Dance. Where did the title come from?
Bratton: It comes from a line from the second verse of the song called “Boxer in a Club.” “Adeline, she screws it down tight/while the young punks dance and the crowd ignites.” And it’s about a dealer. An old dealer that a lot of people knew. And when I do the songs live, I say it’s about an old dealer. And people laugh—they think I’m doing a bit—but I go, “No, no, this was serious.” (Laughs) “Boxer in a Club” is the song that gets really good reactions with my live shows. And the album that’s coming out on Megaforce on April 6th is a departure from some of the stuff [I’ve done in the past]. I decided to do it this time like I do my live show. I play my guitar and I sing my vocal at the same time. I don’t overdub anything. I just do my live performance and then we sweeten over that, we add little stuff over that. [The album] also has “All the Faces,” which is the song I played on the finale in The Office. That’s the first time it’s been on an album.
TYF: One of the songs is called “Heart of Darkness”; is that based on the novel?
Bratton: No, that’s not Joseph Conrad. That’s based on a song my friend Billy Harvey and I wrote. It is about soulmates and the belief that when you find someone that’s your soulmate, you’ll be with that person for the rest of your life. It’s a story about people coming into your life. And they could be there for a day, a week, a month, or maybe the rest of your life, but they’re there to give you spiritual information for your growth, your journey. You go to some places and get information where it may be very uncomfortable, and you have to go through “the heart of darkness.” You have to go through this eleventh-hour crisis, that heart of darkness. You go into it, you face up, you come out through the other side. Or you run away. That’s what that’s about.
TYF: Do you have a favorite song on the track list?
Bratton: Gee, I don’t know. When we finished, the ones I really liked are “Yes Indeed” and “Ready for You Now.” And I like “Boxer.” But I think “Yes Indeed” and “Ready for You Know”… the words take me emotionally away.
TYF: What are those two about?
Bratton: You know what? I’m still trying to find out. I don’t just sit down and write a song. I do when I’m with other people. But these two songs… [When I write a song,] the lyrics and music come all at the same time. And I write them down, and the lyrics’ ability is tested there, right off the bat. And I almost crack the words, to a degree. And then a couple years later, I’ll go, “Oh!” But I know for a fact that they are messages from my subconscious to me about how to deal with life, how to handle your trauma, how to rise above whatever ceilings and fears you have. And I believe that for me to tell you, “This is what this song’s about…” I think everybody will get the ambiguity of it. They’ll get what it means to them. It may be different to someone else than it is to me, and I wouldn’t want to pigeonhole it, you know?
TYF: Yup. And as we just talked about, you used to be a member of the Grass Roots in the 1960s. Are there any never-before-heard stories from those days that you’d like to share with us?
Bratton: Pretty much all of those stories are out there, you know? Dropping acid and running naked through the streets next to the bus… I was a wild man going through the ’60s. The ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, keep on going. (Laughs) When we were doing the Grass Roots, we were just a young band in our 20s. It was a lot of fun. It was a great time to be in music, especially in the ’60s, ‘cause there was so much music and everyone was unique. When we got to the cookie cutter thing… Now, so many bands sound similar. You can’t tell them apart. There’s a formula you have to fit in to get on the radio. Back then, that didn’t apply. Stories? Oh, gosh… I remember playing on the Miami Pop Festival. And when we got through Flo & Eddie, The Turtles were up. And Marc Bolan was there and he was wearing this big pendant shaped like his star around his neck, with a chain. And it was swinging and it came around and got stuck in his afro. And he couldn’t get it out, and a roadie came charging after him with scissors, and the guys from Three Dog Night and I started laughing. We were laughing so hard. Funniest thing we’d ever seen. He was looking over at me like he hated me in that moment. (Laughs heartily) It was too funny. Good laugh. A lot of laughs.
TYF: That sounds great. And the Grass Roots played at the Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival…
Bratton: Oh, my gosh. That’s the one where Janis Joplin came up to the stage on a Harley.
TYF: Whoa. That festival doesn’t have too much documentation surrounding it the way Woodstock does, but it was still a pretty big deal. Can you tell us what that was like?
Bratton: Well, I mean, everyone was pretty much on acid at the time. That was the deal. Pretty much everybody was stoned all the time. I don’t remember when we walked up onstage except for a few occasions. We were [on drugs]—well, when we recorded, we certainly weren’t, because we were very serious about the music, and we we like, “We’re gonna stay here until the song’s done. Let’s get the work done.” It was generally for recreation. But I do remember that back then, one of the problems was that they had big giant speakers out front where your vocal was, and you had your little amps behind the stage. And in those days, they didn’t really amplify. They put mics in front of the amplifiers. That came later. And we didn’t have monitors. That came later, too. So when you were doing three-part harmony, which we did, it was a crapshoot. It was just a crapshoot.
TYF: One of the songs you wrote for the Grass Roots is called “Dinner for Eight.” The lyrics for that one are really interesting. Can you tell me about the inspiration behind that?
Bratton: Thank you, yeah. That’s a song I was really into. I thought that was a really cool song. There are people that have commented on that song, but it wasn’t a single, obviously. It was a really cool song. It was kind of [about] the fear I had about having people over. Inviting my friends over, but they don’t show up. And just being alone in life in general. Which is actually… I’ve been divorced twice. I have family and a lot of good friends. But I’m by myself a lot. I’m a writer, too. I think it was a harbinger saying, “Gird your loins, my friend; here it comes. Get ready; it’s the artist’s life.”
TYF: Yup. And I read that you had 15 dogs back then…
Bratton: I did! I did. I had white German shepherds. We sold them. My wife Jo Ann and I would raise them when they were puppies. We made good money selling those dogs. They were great. We loved them. We had lots of offsets, too. There are lots of offsets in white German shepherds. (Laughs) The shepherds had problems. The white shepherds. They were beautiful animals, obviously, but there were some problems with inbreeding. Not really a good thing.
TYF: Many people know you as Creed from The Office; on that note, what is your favorite moment from the show?
Bratton: Oh, my gosh. Well, I got to be the manager. That was so much fun. Getting to run around, it just kept me busy for that whole week. And I had a lot of good bits from that. Also the scene where I need a cobbler—I’m talking to John Krasinski—and I come in there and I’m really upset. We laughed pretty hard at that scene. John was laughing so hard. I enjoyed that a lot. And obviously, the Halloween episode, because that’s the first one when I got to show what I could do with the cast. There’s a lot of moments. I know the fans have a lot of favorite little lines, because I hear them all the time. When I’m doing a show, they’ll yell them out. Right in the middle of a song. (Imitating fan) “But buddy!’ (Singing, as himself again) “All the faces…” (Imitating fan again) “But buddy! But buddy!” It’s like, “Man, just let me finish the song, you know?” (Laughs) But it’s good. It’s great. Obviously, I wouldn’t get to sing my songs if I hadn’t done the show, you know? Second wind is the word. It’s a great thing.
TYF: So would you say that a lot of people who come out to your shows are people who know you from The Office, or is people who know you from the Grass Roots, or a little bit of both?
Bratton: Oh, The Office. When I have the meet-and-greets afterward, they always tell me they came because of the show, but they left interested in my music, and they really enjoyed the songs. I’m getting a lot more downloads now, after touring. Yeah, it’s good, it’s a good thing. And I keep getting invited back to the venues, so obviously, old Creed’s doing something right. (Laughs)
TYF: In the show, you have a deep desire to scuba. Have you ever gone scuba diving in real life?
Bratton: I have! I used to go scuba-ing a bit. One day I was in Hawaii and I broke my eardrum. [First,] I broke my ear drum in water polo in college—I played water polo—and then later, I broke it going down too far with earplugs in. This woman lost her mask, and I dove down 20 feet, and I was wearing earplugs. I didn’t even think about it. And bam! Blew out that same eardrum again. I think I could go down again if I decompressed a little, took my time, but it’s painful. It’s too bad.
TYF: Wow. And soon you’re going to be in the film The Sisters Brothers. What can you tell us about that?
Bratton: It’s a noir Western with Jake Gyllenhaal, Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly, Riz Ahmed, Rutger Hauer, Carol Kane. Really good script that my friend Patrick deWitt wrote. Patrick wrote Terri. I shot that movie with John C. Reilly. That was when I was on The Office. I read the book and I had been waiting around for their next movie, so I lobbied like crazy. And just like everybody else, I had to go audition. I went to their casting person and they sent me sides, and I shot ’em. It was an in-demand [part]. And the director liked me, and I got in, and I was thrilled. So they just flew me over to Romania, and I was there about four days. I shot a scene with Joaquin and John. So I’m just hoping it makes it in. But the reports are that they’re pleased with what I did. Jacques Audiard, this is his first English-speaking film. It was a major thing in Europe.
TYF: So you filmed in Romania. What was that like?
Bratton: It was an interesting place. People were really cool. You’d be in the city—very cosmopolitan, a lot of churches, all these contemporary hotels, cool shops and stuff–within five minutes of the main part of town, you were back about 200 years. Carts being pulled by horses with wooden wheels on them with potatoes on the back and people with their little shawls over their heads and stuff. Oh my God, it was amazing. The people were great. I love going back over to Europe. I’ve been there a couple of times. This was my third trip. I stayed after the movie a little while, visiting friends. And I’d like to go back again, one of these days.
TYF: And you’re going on tour soon; what can people expect from that?
Bratton: They’re gonna be lucky if I actually get up onstage. (Laughs) I tell people that they’re going to see some stories from The Office. I will go into character. Because I have to—they’ll stone me if I don’t, you know? Then they’re gonna hear a couple Grass Roots songs. They’ll hear “Where Were You,” “Live for Today,” “Temptation Eyes.” And then they’ll hear my new songs from the album. It’s a showing of what I’ve accomplished since I was 17. I’ve been at this for a while.
TYF: Usually I ask the people I’m interviewing for music advice, but you’ve had such a wild range of experiences, so I’ll just ask you: do you have any life advice in general for our readers?
Bratton: Yeah! Well, I got The Office because I went and I shot my own DVD. I shot it myself. I didn’t wait for something to happen. What I didn’t do—and it may not be [a mistake] for everyone, but for me, I know it’s been proven wrong, and that’s why I didn’t do it when I had this opportunity with The Office—I didn’t tell friends. I didn’t tell family. I didn’t tell anybody I was gonna do this. ‘Cause if you think about it… People want you to achieve. They want you to achieve, but subconsciously, everyone’s a little afraid to do it themselves. So they can’t help themselves. You’ll say, “I wanna go do this.” They’ll go, “Yeah, that’s a great idea, but you know the percentages of people that do it, blah blah blah.” And if I told everybody, they’d say, “Wow, you know, there’s these chances…” So you’ve gotta take chances, but don’t tell anybody. Just do it. Don’t talk and dissipate the energy. Just do it on your own and wait and see what happens. And also, when I shot it, I wrote about my strengths, but I also wrote about my weaknesses, too. Tried to find humor in how I thought I’d screwed up in life rather than trying to shy away from it. You have to look at the good and the bad and find some self-deprecating thing, or what’s the point? If you can’t find some humor in it, what’s the point?
TYF: That’s very good advice. All right, is there anything else that you would like to say to the readers before we wrap up?
Bratton: I just hope that they get a chance to listen. My music is old-fashioned in a way. There’s melodies in there, there’s thoughtful lyrics. I’m not following a formula, and I certainly don’t ever sit down to try to write a song to get on the radio. I just let my muse talk. So basically, it’s honest. I’ll say that. And after the show, they’ll leave with a few chuckles, I’m sure. (Laughs)