Those who know the actor — or the TV character — Creed Bratton likely recognize him through “The Office,” where he was promoted from being an uncredited extra to a key employee whose mysterious, drug- and cult-addled backstory he offered in brief, often worrisome recollections.
“You know, a human can go on living for several hours after being decapitated,” his character confidently states in one episode. Elsewhere, the shady paper salesman and scuba diving enthusiast offers insight on the quality of heroin made by the Taliban, advises on finding inexpensive worms and infers that he’s living under an assumed name.
Remarkably, the real Bratton backstory is nearly as wild — if less incriminating. A lifelong musician and actor who grew up in Northern California, he migrated to Los Angeles in the mid-1960s and soon joined Sunset Strip hit-makers the Grass Roots.
Bratton spent most of his career as a working musician, songwriter and actor before landing “The Office” job. Since the series concluded, he’s been focusing on music, comedy and performance.
Bratton just issued a new album called “While the Young Punks Dance.” Those expecting outsider-art craziness or half-baked psychedelic rock, though, are in for a wonderful surprise. It’s a warm, thoughtful folk rock record.
In a conference room on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, the actor and singer recently sat down to talk about his life in music. What follows has been edited for length and clarity.
When did you start taking music seriously?
I played, just to make a living, with bands all through college, and then I went off to Europe and I met these guys in Munich. We formed the Young Californians, and we were over there for two years hitchhiking — heading toward South Africa.
We got all the way down through Europe, taking our time and playing in streets, playing the clubs. We had an impresario in Israel for a while, and he'd get people to put us in restaurants in Beirut, things like that.
On my own, I hitchhiked all across North Africa and met up with them in Egypt. We started going down into the Sudan, but we got turned back because there were Congolese running guns at the time. Americans — no one could go through there. So we went to Beirut through Syria into Jordan.
When was this?
That was ’64 and ’65. And then I stayed over there in London for about six months trying to get a [record] deal and just starved, basically. Dropped down to about 145 pounds. I came back to L.A. and I met [now-prominent music manager] Warren Entner. We started this band called the 13th Floor and we played all over Los Angeles.
On the Sunset Strip?
We were playing the [early rock club] London Fog, and were just getting to make the transition when we got a chance to become the Grass Roots. The first song that I played on was "Live for Today." I did four albums with that band.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you left the Grass Roots under particularly curious circumstances while at the Fillmore West in San Francisco.
[Laughs] That wasn’t the precursor. I had dropped acid and onstage I couldn’t play so I dropped my pants. I thought it paid to advertise.
You dropped them all the way down?
Oh yeah. All the way. But the thing was, we had played with some of the members of [session band] the Wrecking Crew. All the sudden we get back and find out they had cut the tracks and just wanted us to do the vocals. And I’m a musician. I can play guitar, you know?
That was upsetting to me, so I complained and they didn’t like that I complained and said, ‘Well, you can leave if you want.’ I don’t know if they thought I would, but I did. I struggled for years and did bits and parts, played in a lot of different bands, then after 25, 30 years, and even though I had done stuff and worked and stayed alive, I got on “The Office.” That jump-started my musical career again, and here I am doing my seventh album.
How has performing changed since your success on “The Office.” I would imagine that there’s an intermingling of music and TV fans.
People ask me, 'Do you resent that, since you have these songs and could go out just as a solo artist and sing the stuff?’ I could, but I wouldn't have the audience if it wasn't for "The Office." And I am thrilled that I can take that and parlay it into rejuvenating my musical career.
I don’t know what I expected from “While the Young Punks Dance,” but it’s really beautiful.
Thanks very much. I love it and I think it's my best work for sure.
What's your writing method?
I don't sit down to write a song, per se. I know some people sit there with people and say, "Let's write a song about this." I have done that. That song called "Heart of Darkness" I wrote with my friend Billy Harvey. "Unemployment Line" I wrote with my friends Peter and Sarah Dixon. Another one was writing about people's soul mates, and having to go through places that are dark to get to the light.
What about when you’re not collaborating?
I think most of the time I'll be getting up from breakfast or waking up or going to meditate or whatever and my guitar will go, “Eh?” — and I'll pick it up. It's the muse. The muse comes and the lyrics and the melody all come out at once.