Welcome back to “The World According To …”, a series in which we solicit advice from people who are in a position to give it. Up today: SAG-award winning actor and musician Creed Bratton, who just released his ninth full-length album, Slightly Altered.
While you definitely know the 77-year old from his work as a fictionalized version of himself on The Office, you may not know that Bratton actually started out as a musician and even earned a Gold record thanks to his work with the L.A. folk-rock group The Grass Roots in the late 1960s.
Thankfully, real-life Bratton is a heck of a lot nicer — and far more grounded — than his on-screen counterpart. Below, you’ll find our recent conversation with him, where he dishes on his latest album, his next vacation and how his life changed after starring on one of the most famous sitcoms of the last quarter century.
InsideHook: How are you keeping sane in these times of pandemic and social disruption?
Creed Bratton: It’s crazy here. You’re in New York? I wouldn’t take the subway. Here in L.A. people are driving around, going to the beach and wearing masks. You know, I’m old. I’m the one that’s gonna go. So please be respectful and wear your mask (laughs).
All in all, I’m hanging in there. I’ve also been calling people I haven’t seen in years. In a way, this is helping to bring people together, though it’s an unfortunate way to give us some humanity.
Was anything about your new album inspired by what’s going on?
Not really. The album had been cut and I had worked on it over a year with different musicians and producers. [Editor’s note: That includes Grammy award-winning producer Dave Way, who’s worked with Sheryl Crow, Christina Aguilera and Fiona Apple.] I’ve been playing most of the songs live on tour, well, when we could play live. I play a few new songs, a few standards like [The Grass Roots top 10 hit] “Let’s Live for Today,” and, of course, the theme to The Office.
Your new album cover freaks me out a bit.
The cover I originally was thinking of doing was going to be shot by the boyfriend of [The Office co-star] Kate Flannery. He shot one of my earlier covers — it was going to be something like musical notes in a pan while I’m in the kitchen, mixing up a song. But it just didn’t make it. But one morning, I was sitting in front of a tree on a hill with headphones on, and I thought about having the headphones plugged into the tree. Maybe to hear what nature has to say.
But then I was meditating one morning and this image of me without eyes came into my head. I was like, I don’t know what that means, but it disarmed me. It made me feel slightly altered. Then I found an artist, who had done all this work with guys who didn’t have eyes. He sent me something and it was so close to what I had pictured.
What’s another creative outlet for you?
I’m one of those people who writes treatments for film. I figure somebody’ll eventually cast me as something besides a Creed character. I’m capable of doing more! But I write these treatments and come up with these strange characters. Tarantino would love them, they all sound like strange hitmen.
You have a new song, “Chan Chu Toad.” Is that a metaphor or fictional character?
Well, the one I own is very real! I talk to him all the time. It’s a feng shui statue, a three-legged toad. There’s a whole mythology behind it, about an empress who stole the elixir of immortality from her husband … well, there’s a lot of different stories about it. The statue is supposed to scare away people from stealing money or attract money to the house. All the coins I get from Europe, I put in a pile, and I put the toad on top.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about you?
I share some quirks and mannerisms that are similar to my Creed character, but I think when people meet me they find I’m far more introspective and thoughtful. They’re either disappointed or relieved.
What’s one piece of art — be it a song, painting, photograph, book — that changed the way you view the world?
I’ve been playing music professionally since I was 17, but I was playing trumpet and in the marching band when I was younger than that. When I started playing guitar, we were living near Yosemite National Park. I had this little crystal radio set and sometimes I could pick up this radio station that would play Ray Charles, Fats Domino, the Everly Brothers. Then I heard this Link Wray track, “Rumble,” and that electric guitar inspired me.
For acting, I think it was the first time I saw James Dean or Jack Lemmon. Especially Jack Lemmon — we have the same birthday, so I know something about him appealed to me. There was a quirkiness there. I saw movies like Rebel Without a Cause and The Apartment, and I was like, wow, I wanna do that! But I also wanted to play guitar, and then I discovered Bob Newhart and I wanted to make people laugh. I have a good knack for that, it turns out.
How do you relax?
Meditation. It’s like my therapy, it gets rid of all the angst. And it gets me off the phone.
What would you have dedicated your life to if this whole acting/singing/comedy thing didn’t work out?
I wanted to be a veterinarian. I actually once worked as an assistant in a dog hospital; I had to travel to Fresno to do that. I loved animals as a kid. We had a horse, dogs, a chicken and even a steer.
Where do you want to travel to, when traveling is allowed?
I love London. Paris is a lot of fun. I also like Alaska, I’ve been there three times for trout fishing. I also go to Montana to fish.
You don’t seem to mind people’s continued association with you and The Office.
I don’t see why I wouldn’t! I talk about it openly. I mean, I’d like to show people my music — this is my ninth album! — and I think it’s as good as anyone doing rock music now. Sometimes people think it’s a vanity project, but a few people know my past.
I have people come to my shows for the music, but who am I kidding? They’re mainly there to see “Creed,” and rightfully so. It’s a good thing. I’ll embrace that character, and if people end up liking the music, so be it. That being said, after the show, many fans say they came because of The Office, but now they’re gonna look up my songs. So it’s a war of attrition (laughs).