As every true fan of The Office knows, Creed Bratton had a long and interesting life long before he joined up with the crew at Dunder Mifflin. Back in the Sixties, before some of his Office castmates were even born, Bratton was scoring big radio hits as a member of the folk-rock band the Grass Roots, who played gigs alongside Buffalo Springfield and the Beach Boys.
He left the band in 1969 and spent many years on the fringes of the entertainment business, but the huge success of The Office helped reignite his music career — he’s released many solo albums over the past 15 years and toured all over the globe. His new album Slightly Altered is due out later this year; you can check out the leadoff single “Chan Chu Toad” down below.
Bratton called up Rolling Stone to chat about the new album, his life during quarantine, redoing the dance from Jim and Pam’s wedding for John Krasinski’s new web show and whether or not he thinks Creed was the Scranton Strangler.
How is your quarantine going?
Good. My neighbor, David, has been buying me groceries. And a few weeks ago, Whole Foods started letting in senior citizens an hour before everybody else. I’ll go down there and get in line, six feet apart with my mask and gloves, and go around and get my groceries. So I’m doing that now. I’m hiking. They have just reopened the pool where I live. You have to book time so there is nobody else there. But life is slowly, slowly coming back to normal, but there can’t be real normal until there’s an accurate test where you can know if you have it or if you have had it. But right now, I’m going through it like everybody else.
Doesn’t this mean you haven’t been able to see your family and friends?
I can’t see my granddaughters. They put their arms out for me through the phone when we FaceTime together. They are like, “Why aren’t you here? Why aren’t you giving us a hug?” It’s heartbreaking.
Is there any talk of booking concerts in the future?
Last year, I went to England and Scandinavia and the shows went really well. They want me to come back for ten days. This time, I’ll go Germany, Belgium and Switzerland and a few more places. I said yes, but I hope I can go by next year. I also plan on making up dates in Australia I had to cancel due to the fire and then COVID. That’s supposed to happen in March and I hope I can do it. It’s been too long without me getting in front of my people and doing what I do. I live for this stuff.
It must be tough.
It is, but I want to put it in comparison. There are people out there living under underpasses, so I’m never going to complain about my life. Never. I won’t say, “Woe is me.” I won’t do that.
Let’s talk about your new album Slightly Altered. When was it recorded?
Over a year ago. What happened is I met this band down in the San Fernando Valley called the Mojo Monkeys and I really dug them. I actually played an outdoor show with them on the streets of L.A. in the Valley at the opening of a store one of their wives had. I had so much fun. I told [producer] Dave Way, “I play with these guys every once in a while and they are really energetic.” He knew the band, since everyone in L.A. knows them. They are a great bar band.
I played them some of my songs and they said, “I hear [the band] Jackshit all over this.” That’s a band with Davey Faragher and Pete Thomas, both from the Elvis Costello band [the Imposters]. And the amazing Val McCallum is on lead guitar. He’s played with Lucinda Williams and Jackson Browne. We picked three songs for the Mojo Monkeys and three songs for Jackshit.
Then Dave Way produced the documentary Echo in the Canyon with Jakob Dylan. I went with him to the premiere. That night, I had a drink with the band [from the soundtrack] and the next thing I knew, we had joined each other’s company. Dave thought we should work together and they loved the idea. That’s how I got these three premiere L.A. bands to play with me.
The album begins with “Mose Was a Runner.” I presume that’s an Office reference.
It is. It began when Mike Schur was leaving for Parks and Rec with Greg Daniels to be the showrunners. That’s where “Mose Was a Runner” came from. I wrote that song to break his balls as a joke at the warp party and the song just wouldn’t seem to come together.
Then one day, I saw a guy on Mulholland Drive almost get knocked off the road by a car. It was a very, very close call. He could have died because he was running on the wrong side of the road with his back to the traffic. He had full-sized headphones on, like the kind you wear in the studio. It was ridiculous. I thought, “There you go. That’s what the song is about. It’s a public safety announcement.”
What inspired “Chan Chu Toad?”
I have a Chan Chu Toad at my place in L.A. There’s a famous story about Jim Chan. He had a greedy wife and she stole the elixir of immortality. He punished her by turning her into a three-legged toad and put her down a well. Thousands of years later, someone found her and released her into the sky. She’s been turned by mythology in their three-toed frog that sits by your door. He’s there to prevent people from taking money from you and to draw money into your house.
I really like your new version of “Temptation Eyes” by the Grass Roots. What inspired you to do that?
About 20 years ago, I played with some ex-members of the Grass Roots at the Whisky a Go Go’s 35th anniversary celebration along with Nancy Sinatra, Johnny Rivers, the Doors and Paul Revere and the Raiders. When we rehearsed and played “Temptation Eyes” I realized, “Damn, this is a great song. I wish that I had been around to play this song. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a cool, cool song.” When I was rehearsing it at home, I figured out this fingerpicking version of it. I started playing it live and I did it at the Highline Ballroom in New York City [in 2018] and my buddy told me I had to record it.
The Grass Roots cut that song shortly after you left, right?
Yeah. When I play it live, I tell the crowd that I didn’t play on it. Well, a lot of us played on none of the songs we did! That was one of my frustrations about the whole thing. But nevertheless, it’s a really cool song. We added in some trombone too.
The album ends with “Right Where I Belong.” That one seems like a message about how you’re very content in your life.
It kind of is. I’m very, very pleased. I’m not angry or frustrated or feeling like the world has done me wrong. It’s turned out really, really cool and far better than I ever could have imagined. I’ve been lucky, for sure, but I also worked hard and it’s finally paid off. I tell everyone to keep at it, the day-to-day thing. Don’t look at goals way down the line. Just wake up and see what the day brings. Pretty soon you’re at the line. That is where I’m at right now.
You make an appearance on the new Greg Daniels Amazon series Upload. How did that happen?
That was Greg. He e-mailed me one day and said, “We’ve got this project. Would you be interested in appearing? We’re going to keep it on the hush-hush. It’s just a cameo, so don’t tell anyone.” I didn’t tell anyone about it. I didn’t put it on my IMDB. I didn’t know, but Dave Rogers, our old editor on The Office, he called me and said it turned out really, really funny. That was great of Greg to do. And it was great for the fans. They got a little more Creed.
The fans also loved seeing you do the Wedding Dance on John Krasinski’s web show. Tell me about that.
John reached out to all of us. We had all e-mailed to say what a good thing he was doing with that show. It made people’s hearts feel so great. He said he wanted to do this wedding dance and we all jumped on it. I don’t think everyone did, but the ones that did, did.
It must have been fun to recreate that moment.
So much fun. And by the way, I hadn’t seen that in a long time. When I saw Rainn [Wilson] turn around and kick that woman in the face, I howled. He did it with his wife in the new video. All I had to do was grab my crotch and do the dance around the room thing that Creed does.
I heard Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey play your music on the Office Ladies podcast.
They played a little of the song “The Ride” when I talked about the new album. That’s a song that I think people will be surprised by. It’s really catchy. When I play the chorus once, the whole audience is with me. They are singing along.
With the Office Ladies podcast and John’s web series, it’s been great for the fans to see all of you back together in different incarnations, especially when everyone is trapped at home.
I hope so. It’s rough being at home. And there’s so much love out there for our show that you want to get out there and see them and say hi and thank them. As you know, that is part of my show. I’m a very, very thankful guy for what’s happened to me and when I play live, I get to tell everybody that. I don’t take it for granted.
Do you get recognized more on the street now than you did when the show was on?
Yeah. I think it’s more popular now than it was then. It’s astonishing. Also, kids of our original fans watch it now. It’s already gone to a couple of generations. One of these days, I think I’ll put sitting there with a bunch of kindergartners quoting the lines to me. It could happen.
Do you ever talk to people that have tickets to the Grass Roots and show up expecting to see you?
I sometimes get asked why I’m not in the band even though I haven’t been there since 1970. There is nobody in the band anymore from that time. Rob’s wife owns the brand, the trademark, and she sends out this band that she pays a minimal fee to and they go around and play that stuff. Eh. It is what it is. They have to make a living too, I guess. People have been doing that forever. I think it’s kind of weird, but I’m not judging them.
When you are able to tour again, will you play a bunch of songs from this new album?
Sure. I’ll be playing a lot of it. I have to play “Rubber Tree” and “All The Faces.” I’ll be playing a lot of songs from the album. The one they love is “Heart of Darkness” from the While The Young Punks Dance. That one seems to touch a lot of people.
Are you writing new songs during this quarantine?
I am. I’ve got four songs that are completed already. I have more than that, but I have four that I can go in right now and record. But I wake up in the morning and I’m always writing down stuff. Artists are never not jotting down lines or ideas. It never stops. I don’t think much about it. It just happens.
As an actor, it has to be a weird time since everything just shut down and nothing is filming.
My heart goes out to people that aren’t like me, that can’t just write songs if they can’t go in front of the camera. I’ve acted and done music from a very young age. It’s rough not being able to do that. It’s putting people in economic stress all over. There’s no way they can hang in there. If you’re an aspiring actor working as a waiter trying to survive, what are you going to do? I can’t imagine.
One final question that Office fans all want to know. Do you think that Creed was the Scranton Strangler?
If I was there right now, I’d probably strangle you for asking me that question. [Laughs] I don’t know. He obviously had a body in the trunk of his car [in the sixth season episode Murder] after Michael said “There’s been a murder here” and he ran out. He’d obviously killed somebody. He came in once with blood all over him [in the season nine episode Here Comes Treble]. He’d obviously killed somebody, but he had blood all over him. A strangler doesn’t get blood all over him. They just take the life out. He had been slicing up somebody with a knife. Maybe he’s not.
People say it’s Toby, but I just can’t imagine that. Can you imagine him grabbing someone and strangling them? I can’t. Me? Yes. You can see me doing it. Of course.