Q&A

We Asked Creed From The Office To Pick The Song Of The Summer

Creed Bratton talks Drake, Lady Gaga, the Weeknd, his new LP, & more

If you know anything about Creed Bratton, you know he’s lived many lives. Most of us, of course, got to know him as the oddball scene-stealer on The Office. Bratton began as a background supporting character, playing a bizarro fictionalized version of himself. His character came close to being written off in the second season, but instead he stuck around and wound up offering a whole bunch of the most memorable moments in the series, an array of dark and zany jokes and even an eventual, short-lived stint as acting Regional Manager.

Long before all that, Bratton was in the ’60s folk-rock group the Grass Roots. Back then, he was another young musician right in the middle of the counterculture maelstrom. But eventually frustrations within the group — about having to record songs by outside writers, about not being allowed to perform on their own recordings — boiled over, and Bratton left the band. What happened in the middle was a long passage of semi-lost years, Bratton scraping by as he tried to pick up acting gigs from the late ’70s onwards.

Then The Office happened. Ever since, Bratton’s returned to his life as a musician as well. After a couple early ’00s archival releases of material he’d written since the Grass Roots, he’s periodically unveiled a new album and is consistently on the road. He has a new collection, Slightly Altered, out today. It finds the 77-year-old working with more of a full-band electric template than his last album, the ruminative 2018 release While The Young Punks Dance.

On the occasion of Slightly Altered, we called up Creed to talk about his new music, The Office, and a very important task at hand. As you might be aware, our 2020 Song Of The Summer poll is open until the middle of next week. We figured it was time to have Creed weigh in.

Creed Bratton – “Chan Chu Toad” And “Mose Was A Runner”

CREED BRATTON: Hey by the way, before we start this thing, you know I’m 77 years old right? I heard some of these songs on here and I went, “Wait a second, come on.” Are you alright with me just saying, “What the hell!?” Because I’m not holding back you know.

STEREOGUM: Of course, whatever your reaction is, man. I want to start with talking about your album, actually. The first single was “Chan Chu Toad,” and you have one in your house.

BRATTON: I do, I do, it’s a feng shui thing — facing the door, but it has to be at an angle. It sits there. Basically, the Chinese believe that if you take them around they bring money into your home and they keep people from taking money out of your home. So it’s a win-win both ways. I started reading up on it, and next thing I know I’m writing a song about it. You never know where it’s going to come from. Many times my songs are about the woman, in my romantic inclinations, I think is out there somewhere for me. Songs like “The Ride.” Also, you can be talking to a woman in that song, or to yourself or God, saying I came here to do what I do for you. But I don’t even know sometimes, when I’m writing songs, until later — 20/20 hindsight, right?

STEREOGUM: The opener is called “Mose Was A Runner,” which is an Office reference. You were carrying this song around with you for a while right?

BRATTON: I was going to write the song for Mike Schur when he left with Greg Daniels to start Parks & Rec. That was the idea of the song, I wanted to play it for him. And then [years later] I see this near accident where a guy with his back to the traffic [almost got hit] — so this guitar thing came out, and then I thought, “OK, this is cool and maybe I can save somebody’s life with it too.” That’s the grandiose thing, who knows.

STEREOGUM: Over the years I know you blended The Office with your music a bit, doing things like playing your version of the theme song at your shows. But I’d read an interview with you a couple years ago where you’d talked about the fact that you knew you had this new generation of fans from the show but you wanted to move away from that a bit, just be “Creed Bratton, the musician.” So I was surprised there was a specific reference on this album.

BRATTON: I had thought, as any actor, “I can do more, I can be a contender.” I can do these other parts. Even though people who meet me find out right away that I’m not that character — people think that’s who I am, but I’m an actor playing a part. I was doing an interview earlier today and they asked me to do a skit with them as Creed. I said “OK, let’s try it.” We started and I said, “No, no, it’s not working.” It takes too much energy. It’s a short burst, to do that kinetic energy he’s about. But I know it’s always going to be there.

I guess what was more part of the deal was I wanted people to appreciate the music, but that’s happened. When I meet the fans afterwards, they say, “We came in because of the show, but we loved the music too.” I figured, you know what, I can have it both ways. “That’s what she said!” The song “Mose,” my producer said, “You gotta put it in. You’re running away from who you are.” He’s right. I’m not going to run away from it, but I’m not going to predicate everything I do on the character. I do want to go play more dramatic things, and I’m capable of it. It’s difficult when people stereotype you. Again, not bad-mouthing the situation, I’m very lucky to get to play the guy. But for years now, people offer me parts just like that. And if the money’s really good, obviously I’ll do it! But I would like to show more stuff.

STEREOGUM: The last thing I’m going to say about The Office is that I have to tell you I’m actually from the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area.

BRATTON: Oh my God. They helped me, I helped them. I’m upset now. There was a statue of me recently in Scranton. Not a very large one. But during the rioting and everything they pulled the Creed statue down, because they thought I had done something bad.

STEREOGUM: …Is this a real story.

BRATTON: Nooooo. [Laughs]

STEREOGUM: I mean, who knows with my hometown.

BRATTON: It was a foot tall, they used shoelaces, but anyway they did topple it.

STEREOGUM: Well, I’m sure you’ve heard this kinda thing before, but that show came on when I was 13 or 14 and we just couldn’t believe there was a new show set there. And there were plenty of Creed quotes that turned into some recurring jokes in my family.

BRATTON: I never go through life anymore without just being totally thankful that that came on. I wrote that guy. I created that character and the writers took it and made him into something amazing. You can see why he’s like a broken tuning board, that guy. Tightening up to play him, it’s like he’s ready to spill over — it wears you out. I had to be ready to do him anytime the character came around to me on set, because we were always in character.

The Weeknd – “Blinding Lights”

STEREOGUM: Now I’d like to ask you to pick the Song Of The Summer.

BRATTON: Please put this on, as a disclaimer. For my age, and that I am totally — ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls — ignorant of the rap genre. I know sometimes I’ve heard lyrics and I’ve thought, “Oh I know this is a good statement.” But some of the other things that happen I just don’t understand. So please don’t judge me, but here we go.

STEREOGUM: Well first I want to ask you a general question. The songs we chose are basically just some of the biggest songs going right now. Every year we kind of do this. In general, what do you think makes a good song of the summer?

BRATTON: I think that song “Blinding Lights” by the Weeknd. I like him, too. I heard that song and immediately I saw myself in a convertible driving by the ocean or over Mulholland Drive, where I love to drive my scooter or my sports car. All I can say is that song has a great vibe. I used to like “Satellite” by Guster — there are people like that, I could sit in on guitar and have some fun. It’s fun and it’s catchy and it moves. Light summer songs.

STEREOGUM: Did you know his other hits as well?

BRATTON: I heard some before, I couldn’t tell you the names, but I’ve heard stuff and liked it. I’m pretty sure I like Tame Impala too.

STEREOGUM: We didn’t send you a Tame Impala song but they did just put out a new album and they are very good summer music in my opinion.

BRATTON: If you interview the guy, please tell him I enjoy his stuff!

STEREOGUM: Ironically we just published an interview with him, but next time. So “Blinding Lights” also has this ’80s new wave vibe–

BRATTON: Yup, I have it here in my notes, “’80s vibe.” I have an album called The ’80s, and one of the songs I played in The Office was “Spinnin’ N Reelin.’”

Creed Bratton – “Spinnin’ N Reelin'”

STEREOGUM: You just took my segue.

BRATTON: [Laughs] Nevermind, cut it out, bring it back later and it’ll be a surprise! “Oh, really, I never thought of that Ryan!”

STEREOGUM: No, no let’s talk about it. It was stuck in my head thinking about that episode. You wrote that in the ’80s?

BRATTON: Yeah, it’s a catchy little number. I did, I did. I think I was cleaning the toilet, down on my hands and my knees and went “Oh!” That’s how it happens. Went and grabbed my old Guild D-40 and banged out those chords and started singing. If you’re a songwriter you hear it in your head, you can see the chords and boom.

STEREOGUM: I think it’s a pretty good summer song in of itself.

BRATTON: Those driving eighth notes will always get you tapping your feet without a doubt.

Dua Lipa – “Break My Heart”

STEREOGUM: Speaking of ’80s vibes though, there are a couple songs here that have some retro elements going on. The next one I was going to ask about is Dua Lipa’s “Break My Heart.”

BRATTON: She’s got a really good voice. I like her voice, and there’s good production on the music part. I was watching the video, too. She’s got a great voice and a lot of attitude, the rock attitude. But I don’t know if this is part of the thing or not, but she seems bored. Even when she put her hands up and said “Check me out.” It’s a throwaway thing, like she’s not having fun. I thought, you should be enjoying yourself! That’s a big production, that thing. But I’d love to see her like Lady Gaga, just sitting down at a piano or guitar and sing. That always, to me, separates the men from the boys and the women from the girls, if you can sit down and just deliver the goods.

STEREOGUM: Well, OK, so she’s got this aloof vibe, but the music on the album is this pretty effervescent disco-indebted stuff. The album’s called Future Nostalgia, so it’s sort of unstuck from time but it’s definitely looking back to certain eras. Did you like that stuff when it was new?

BRATTON: Who pulled it off — Blondie right? She pulled off that disdainful thing. Heroin helped a lot too.

Lady Gaga – “Rain On Me” (Feat. Ariana Grande)

BRATTON: I like this a lot.

STEREOGUM: So you’ve been a fan?

BRATTON: I wasn’t sure until one day I saw her sit down with a piano. OK, OK, she’s the real deal. And they bring it, right? Energy-wise, voice — they both sing their ass off. She’s got attitude, but you can see she’s having fun. Good for her. I think she’s great.

STEREOGUM: She and Ariana are both in that long tradition of pop diva-type personas.

BRATTON: There’s a reason for it, they got chops.

STEREOGUM: This song is actually about depression, but I guess it’s a “dance the pain away” type message. In a way that’s a pretty appropriate Song Of The Summer for 2020.

BRATTON: If that came on your radio you’ll bop along to that just fine, right?

STEREOGUM: Do you listen to the radio when you drive around?

BRATTON: No, I don’t. I got my CD box and I listen to classical, all the old stuff, Miles Davis, Coltrane. I’m old school. I’m old. [Laughs] I don’t listen to too much music. I watch a lot of film, as an actor, to keep up and see the competition.

Megan Thee Stallion – “Savage (Remix)” (Feat. Beyoncé)

STEREOGUM: This was a sort of break-the-internet moment.

BRATTON: Nasty, sassy, moody — a lot of that. What’s happening? Sassy, moody. Then, “lazy bitches.” And I think, “No they’re not! They’re working their ass off!” But they really do glorify the female derriere. I appreciate the music and the production but I don’t know what’s going on lyrically. I hear ‘em, I go, “OK.” I get it’s the glorified butt. Hey, I’m a guy, I dig it. OK, moving on.

Drake – “Toosie Slide”

BRATTON: [Laughs] Auto-Tune, come on man. I thought we were done with that stuff. Anybody can sing with Auto-Tune. Why do they want to do it? I see the dance, he says, “I dance like Michael Jackson.” No you don’t, nobody dances like him, first of all. Sorry Drake. I wonder what he sounds like without the Auto-Tune. There was a time, when it first came out, like a novelty, “OK, I get it, that’s kinda cool.” Is that just the style, is that how the vocals are always going to be for him? Is that what he does? I’m curious.

STEREOGUM: I mean, yeah, it was this tool that became this gimmick that then became really prevalent in pop music. He wasn’t a singer originally, but he’s been a major force in popularizing this hybridized sing-rap that does use Auto-Tune a lot. He’s had a lot of hits, did you know him before?

BRATTON: No, no. And again, this guy is probably great, most of these people I’d get along with just great in person.

STEREOGUM: I’m sure there’s a lot of Office fans on this list.

BRATTON: I hope we don’t lose them because of my comments! Again, the Auto-Tune, I don’t get it. Not that my pitch is the greatest, but I want it to sound like a human voice. I think that’s where the healing is, in the human voice.

Doja Cat – “Say So”

STEREOGUM: This is a bit more of a groovy, funky thing.

BRATTON: “Cabana boy gets lucky.”

STEREOGUM: That was your note?

BRATTON: That was the note. “Cabana boy gets lucky. The old grind ensues.” [Laughs] I have no idea what she’s saying at all, but I like the visual. And I can relate. I’ve been that guy.

STEREOGUM: You’ve been the cabana boy?

BRATTON: I’ve been the cabana boy! I’ve been up there round some places with some women going “Heyyy,” you know. That’s all good. That’s all good stuff, you know?

STEREOGUM: That video is definitely very summer song-esque.

BRATTON: It is, there’s nothing wrong with that song at all, I just don’t know what the lyrics are. Otherwise I’d be commenting on it.

STEREOGUM: It’s kind of like the Dua Lipa song — it’s not explicitly retro but do you hear some older bits of music mixing with the contemporary in this song?

BRATTON: Yeah, yeah, there’s R&B there. Which I always loved. When Grass Roots started, we were the biggest Otis Redding fans. He wasn’t even R&B, he was more soul. I love a good funk and R&B track anytime. And I love the eclectic juxtaposition of pop music. I think that’s one of the saving graces of pop music. You can go anywhere, and put stuff together, as long as it moves you it’s good. That’s what pop music’s all about. It doesn’t have to be one genre. But yeah the track on this song is cool, I like the track.

Lil Mosey – “Blueberry Faygo”

BRATTON: [Mimics Lil Mosey’s voice] “You got my blueberry Faygo.” He talks about making his glock hard, which I think is hysterical. There’s a hard gun in there and now it’s a penis. What is blueberry Faygo?

STEREOGUM: It’s a soft drink.

BRATTON: He looks so young. And his glock is hard and he’s running around in a Bentley. Is it tongue-in-cheek?

STEREOGUM: What you were saying about Dua Lipa earlier is something my coworker wrote about Lil Mosey, that he seems bored to be there.

BRATTON: There’s this one scene with all these women behind him and he looks intimidated. Like, “Where am I supposed to go?”

STEREOGUM: Are you familiar with TikTok at all?

BRATTON: Yes, I’m on TikTok! I became one of the TikTokkers because of this album. My people said, “You gotta get on TikTok, this is where it’s happening, and you have such a young audience.” And I do! I have shows where I tell the fans, “Listen, if you’ve got any great-grandmothers, bring ‘em to the show!” They laugh, they think I’m kidding, but I’m not. These are just kids, but I need their great grandmas, and I’ll be fine. Jesus. Listen, please keep putting this in this article, I’m ignorant of the genre and I’m just describing what I see, but I’m really not judging it. When we were in the ’60s and we had long hair and crazy clothes, people hated us. Cops wanted to beat us over the head. You do things to shock your elders. If this is what’s required to get attention and sell records, that’s what has to be.

STEREOGUM: It’s interesting you bring up the ’60s and the counterculture. The reason I bring up TikTok–

BRATTON: At the moment my very first video has 4.4 million views. The second one has 1.7 million.

STEREOGUM: You’re like a young viral star now.

BRATTON: I’m a young viral TikTok star. These are my people, Ryan. They will build a statue for me, I’m sure. And then they’ll tear it down when they read this article. [Laughs]

STEREOGUM: I was reading a story about you watching the Turtles after taking acid. It’s a whole different time period now. And a lot of these songs now, that we’re talking about today, got popular because of something like TikTok. Not normal radio methods necessarily. Some of them are almost designed to become memes there, where people will do their own dances. You having been in bands 50 years ago, is it strange to see this new era, or it’s just another change?

BRATTON: Ahh, I don’t judge it, I just look at it and shake my head. Hearing these records, there’s some diversity here. In the ’60s, you knew who everybody was on the radio — that’s the Doors, that’s Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds. You could tell right away. Then there was a period of time when everyone had to follow this cookie cutter template. At least in the stuff I’ve heard [from now], there’s diversity there. A couple years ago, when I was at SXSW, there were a ton of bands. There were a couple bands I heard there where I said, “More of this please.”

Benee – “Supalonely” (Feat. Gus Dapperton)

BRATTON: With Gus Dapperton. The Dapper Tones would be a great group name. That’s the only note I have on that one. I like when she sings “I’m fucked up,” “I’m a lonely bitch.” But she’s so clean-cut this girl! And, Auto-Tune, come on. Too much of it.

STEREOGUM: I figured you might say that.

BRATTON: Is it the contrast? Is that the idea? That she’s so clean-cut and innocent and saying those lines, is it shock value?

STEREOGUM: This one started to get popular in February but I think it became a whole other thing during quarantine.

BRATTON: It looks like something they shot on their phones, it’s not a high production value — which I don’t think is necessary if you’ve got a great song. I couldn’t tell if her voice was good because of the Auto-Tune, but credit to her she’s out there and she’s doing it. The kids like it, it’s for the kids. I’m trying too. I’m trying to get that market going, I want to keep touring and playing for other people.

The Grass Roots – “Let’s Live For Today”

STEREOGUM: To me, ’60s music is summer music. You’ve talked about how this was once the focal point of your live sets and then eventually people didn’t know what it was anymore.

BRATTON: Yeah I would play it acoustic onstage and do a little comedy bit. I’ll go, “Anyone know the Grass Roots hit ‘Let’s Live For Today?’” One person in a thousand people puts their hand up.

STEREOGUM: So it’s not the song of this summer.

BRATTON: But I can tell you when we first did that. Warren Entner and I went in and played acoustic guitar. I thought the song was OK. Just a couple weeks later I was driving down Sunset and I turned on the radio — it happened so fast back then, the payola would roll out and the song would get played. And then if people like it they start requesting it, so it happened. I hit the radio, and I heard it, and then I hit another and there it was again, and then I tried one more and there it was again. I pulled over to the side of the road with my heart pumping out of my chest. You’ll never forget moments like that. It’s totally surreal.

Creed Bratton – “The Ride”

STEREOGUM: So do you have any songs you want to vouch for over these options for Song Of The Summer?

BRATTON: The only one I’d put up there is “The Ride.” I want people to hear it because I think that’d be a good Song Of The Summer. It’s old-fashioned, it sounds like it’s from the ’60s — or, well, maybe the ’70s, it has that Steely Dan vibe.

You know how we talked about how I wrote lyrics for the Office theme? Well, I recorded the version I do onstage with the band in the studio, and we approached NBC and they were like, “No, we don’t want you to do that, there’s too many references to the show.” So we had the track, and I started writing lyrics to it so the track didn’t work anymore so I rewrote it. So that obstacle they put in my way gave me this song. Obstacles are just there to be surmounted.

CREDIT: Andrew Hreha

Slightly Altered is out today. And don’t forget cast your vote for the Song Of The Summer.