Creed Bratton is a man of many talents. While well known from his role on NBC’s The Office, many aren’t aware of his lifelong pursuit of music, and multi-faceted career. From his travels around Europe, Africa, and the Middle East and membership in the Grass Roots, to his acting career and solo music performances, it’s clear that Bratton has led quite the interesting life.
Creed Bratton will perform at the State Theatre on February 22nd, and Alex May talked with him about his life experiences and artistic mind.
For those who haven’t heard your music before, can you tell us a little bit about your music and songwriting style?
Well, I wake up in the morning, or the middle of the night when an idea comes through. My songwriting style, basically I just write down information given to me from the muse and how that works for songwriters. Record the muse and the muse delivers. Since I left the Grass Roots, it’s been an ongoing thing. The songs come through, and I find some times after a couple of years, I realize what the song’s about, and then it’s information for myself or… I’m not one of these people who sits down and writes to say I’m gonna write a song about this or that, or a specific subject. The songs actually kind of write themselves.
Although your first instrument was the trumpet, you moved over to the guitar. What were some of the things that drew you to the guitar?
I started the trumpet for several years, was first chair from my freshman year in high school on. When I was 13, my grandfather who was a semiprofessional musician, my grandmother who played drums, he played guitar, he had a band called the Happy Timers, showed me some chords and stuff, and I just listened to the radio, and just tried to figure it out that way. I figured out the basic piano and guitar by listening to the radio.
One of my favorite parts about reading your biography on your website was how you travelled around Europe and Africa after college. I think especially today, many people would find this difficult to do, but it seems like you had a lot of valuable experiences. Can you tell us a little about your travels?
I was a drama major in college, I had always planned to be an actor, and the music was just in my DNA, it’s always been. I had an acting coach at Sacramento state who said “you’ve got all the basic tools for this profession, you just need more life experiences.” So I thought, well, I should travel, so I took off and met these guys in Munich who were like a duo, and I could hear that they needed another guitar part and we started talking, and invited me to join the group. I was working studying German and working in a factory in Munich at the time. So I took my money out of the bank and bought a guitar, I didn’t bring my guitar from home actually when I came over there, a big parka, a backpack, and some hiking boots, I spent my money on all that, I got this wild hair on my ass, and said let’s go! I was over there for over two years, ’64 and ’65. I didn’t move back till ’66 to L.A., which I hadn’t really spent much time there, even though I was born there.
But anyway, we just travelled and we played in railroad stations, things like that, then we started booking around places. If you hitchhike across North Africa, you’d die now. We had, we were protected for sure. Someone up there was looking out for us. We got through it fairly unscathed. I got attacked by a group of people in Tunisia. Some kids were pulling my hair going “Beatle, Beatle, Beatle, Beatle!” you know, and I pushed somebody and said get away from me. Well, they took offense. Next thing I know, I’m surrounded by a bunch of people screaming. They don’t just talk and discuss things with you, they scream and spit at you basically, so I turned and started running out of the town, and next thing I know, a couple of rocks hit my shoulder, so I pulled out my guitar up and covered the top of my head above my rucksack. I had a big bag and I was was running. They were stoning me. I got stoned out of a city! I’m thinking about the musical tones about the rocks are making off the guitar, pelting me. That’s no joke (laughs). I laugh at it now, but I was scared to death at the time.
I had people pull knives on me and stuff, you know, but somehow you get through this stuff. You kind of, you’re young and twenty, and I was a relatively athletic guy, so I just jumped back up… you’re by yourself sometimes, but you need people to get right down there, and music is the great communicator, it really is. We could always pick up our guitar and start singing wherever we were and make friends that way.
Do you have any favorite places that stick out in your mind?
So many places. I was pretty impressed by Luxor, out in the Valley of Kings and Queens in Egypt. We went through Petra, out of Beirut in Lebanon, excuse me, in Jordan rather, and that was amazing, an amazing place. Austria of course is gorgeous. We made more money outside, in the European countries we could barely get through, we were in Israel, we got on a movie there and were able to make some money and get out of there, and Greek Islands, Crete and Rhodes, and that was pretty idyllic. Kind of like La Dolce Vita, not without the debauchery! Riding on scooters and young love and all that, that was a pretty good time.
Both acting and performing music are very creative roles. Can you tell us about some of the similarities and differences between the two careers?
You know, people ask me that question a lot, Alex, and I hear that so many people try to find… I think I am pretty rare in the fact trying to be a rock star and being on a sitcom. People keep saying to me, that’s such an odd thing to occur, you know. What’s the difference between the two, and I basically think that really, for me as a songwriter, I’m singing lines, correct? That I wrote down. So basically I am the playwright, and I sing my own songs when I’m at my show, and they’re very personal to me. So I send out that emotion and the intent to the audience. When I’m acting, the difference would be I’m using somebody else’s lines, but I’m still intent to give out the purpose of the words, and send out the emotion to the audience. So the two differences, one, you have a guitar in front of you and singing the lyrics, the actor is saying the lyrics, but he’s still emoting, and he’s has the intent, a message he’s trying to get to his audience.
In essence, they’re very similar. It’s art. What does a painter do? You get a painting, you put some intent and passion and emotion into these things, and hope the people will receive it. Same as a playwright.
Your latest album, Tell Me About It (2013), has been described as an audio biography. Was this something that you set out to make, or something that came naturally from the content of the songs?
The album before that was Bounce Back which I did with my producer Dave (Way), the Grammy award winning Dave I have to say (laughs). We have a video on there that talks about it. But yeah, he’s a great, great producer. I had so much fun with the Rubbermen, and I actually put that band together, that was the first time that band played in that studio, and I took different people that I played with in different places around town, that I was compatible with, and comfortable playing with, and they’re great players of course, but we got in there, basically would laugh our ass off, and tell stories, and joke around, and then all of the sudden, you’d go “oh, we’ve got a song done!” We talked about it later, and it was the most effortless album. So we wanted to do that again!
So this time I was playing a song for Dave, and we recorded a couple of songs, and he called me up one night saying “you know what, what I see here are the demos the guitar/vocal sets you had for the first two songs.” And I had always been writing with other different people in the band outside. I wrote with Blue, this artist Blue, I wrote a song called “When I Settle Down” I wrote with Dylan O’Brien, I wrote with Billy Harvey, I wrote with Vance Degeneres. So he said “I see this as a biography you know?” An audio-biography came out of that. He explained to me, I can see here these songs are kind of like when you were down, and this is when you’re successful, here you’re positive up step and I went “Oh my God, you’re right!” So he kind of saw that this was a three part play before, being in the Grass Roots, then that 30 year period where I didn’t have a pot to piss in, and I struggled through with my faith, and it’s about not losing your faith and your confidence in what you’re doing, and it’s a good lesson for young people, for anybody. I didn’t lose my focus through all that stuff. And then, of course, we formed this band, back on the top again.
You’re right, it came out of the process. Like building my scaffolding, that kind of process, you know. It just shows itself to you. It’s revealed in the process.
What aspects of your music do you feel are the most important?
I guess it’s my say, I write songs for myself, songs come out of me, I get enjoyment out of it. Basically, that’s it – I get enjoyment out of my songs, I know they’re good songs, and know that the people around me who I respect all are all getting up on these tunes, and the feedback is really good, so that’s it. There are people who will receive them, and don’t receive them. Not in a spiritual sense, but in a commercial sense- do these songs treat people, and so far they’re working. Knock on wood, Alex.
After decades of being an artist on stage and on screen, what is the most valuable lesson that you feel you’ve learned?
Okay heres one: 1966: I’ve come from Europe and I’m back in L.A. for the first time. Basically this is my first time being, I’m a young man in my 20s in L.A. We’re playing around with 13th floor, playing all the stuff. And I’m sitting there with my future sister-in-law, and my future wife, and we’re having lunch at a place called Siros, and I’m in a very candid moment. And I tell them that I see it very clearly in my mind’s eye, that I’m going to be successful, that I see myself getting up on stage with people, and actually getting to be successful with my music, and with my acting, too, so I told them this. And of course, right away Jo Ann was behind me in all this stuff. But my sister-in-law and a lot of other people, they can’t help themselves, they just see the negativity. So she’s starts telling me all “do you know how many people want this thing? Do you know what the percentages of it is?” blah, blah, blah, she starts talking about all the negativity that can be associated with this. Now some people buy into this stuff. I just looked at her and I watched her talk, and inside my mind, I just closed up, and I’m just seeing her lips go blah, blah, blah, and basically all I’m hearing is just a chatter, and I’m thinking to myself, you know what, it doesn’t matter what other people think. You know what you know, and you have to stick with that stuff.
So that’s it, that’s what I tell artists. If you really see it, and you have the talent for it, then you can’t let people dissuade you, and allow their insecurities to dirty up the track. That’s not the way to play this game.
That’s a great lesson. Especially today, as far as music artists go, or really with any creative endeavor, it’s easier for people to see a negative response with the internet. It’s important to keep that in mind and not let it get you down.
Absolutely. And of course I’m not saying you have to have this vision, it’s going to come to you. Obviously I’d played the guitar all my life at that time, since I was a kid. You’ve got to be happy, you have to do this thing for the love. It’s not like you go into music because it’s going to make a lot of money. It’s something you do… that’s the thing. You got to accept all that hard work with it, too. And enjoy it, and love it.
Thanks again to Creed Bratton for taking the time to speak with us!
Make sure to check out his show at the State Theatre on February 22nd!