Ferentz and The Felons is a New Jersey-based “street folk” band with the singular mission of giving back by supporting the true war on drugs — public awareness and addiction recovery. They’ve just released the video for “Hudson County,” the title track of their EP due for release in July.
The song, written by band leader Zac Ferentz, refers to the bad memories acquired during a difficult childhood and adolescence in a dysfunctional, drug-addled urban community. Recently Zak took the time to answer our questions about his background, his art, and his drive to respond with compassion to a social problem he knows only too well.
What kind of childhood did you have?
I had what I like to call an “urban America” childhood. My parents battled heavy drug addiction and my father would take off on us whenever things got tough. My mother has always been my main role model; even though she had her demons she always got things done. But to be honest, looking back on all the hard times, I really am grateful. It could’ve been a lot worse.
What role did music play in it?
Music always has and always will be a part of my genetic makeup. My mother was blasting music for us while we were in the womb. A world without music is a world I don’t want to live in.
Were you trained in music or did you teach yourself?
My brother and I both taught ourselves, it just came naturally to us. Even my sister played the violin. Kind of wish she still did.
Who—or what—was the best influence on you as an artist? As a human being?
I have so many things that influence me, but if I have to name a few I’d say my mother, my friends, Madball, Tom Petty, my neighborhood—the list can go on for a long time.
You’ve said that you were into heavy metal for a long time. Why did you make the shift to street folk?
I always liked all types of music, I would go in and out of phases, but I would take something from every style. What I was doing in my past band, War Story, isn’t much different from what I’m doing now. I’m telling a true story, my story, and I’m making this music for the people who can relate and really feel this.
How did you come up with your band name?
No one I grew up with ever played by the rules; handcuffs were always making an appearance in my neighborhood. And while most see us as “felons” or “bad guys,” I just see us as people who got jammed up in a system designed to keep us down. At the end of the day, we’re all felons.
What do you like best about the new EP?
How real and pure it is.
Did anything funny or weird happen while you were making it?
Our drummer Matt walked straight into a glass door and left his head print on it. That was hysterical.
What’s the story behind the song “Hudson County?”
I’ve lived through a lot of things that don’t make it easy to sleep at night, and most of it always comes back to where I grew up. Looking back I just felt like we were locked in a cage. I’ve lost so many loved ones to the bullshit that comes with the street life, drugs being the main thing.
But I also realize that it made me who I am. There was a time when I needed to get out, and I finally left. That song comes from a mindset I’ve already overcome. Hudson County is a strange place, but it’s where my story begins. I’m back in Hudson County, but now I’m here with the right mindset, I’m here to give back and make this a better place.
Is Hudson County a creatively stimulating place for a music maker?
Big time. Just expect a lot of pain from that artist.
I see that Hudson County, New Jersey has been designated a high-density drug trafficking area (HIDTA). What kind of an impact has this had on your growth?
I’ve done drugs, sold drugs, watched family and friends lose their lives to drugs—drugs were always around me. Through my story I hope to inspire people of all ages to stay far away from them, and for anyone who needs help please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at any time. We all make mistakes, we live and learn, but it’s never too late to make a change.
This question hits home for me. I can’t not think of what drugs did to my family. My mother and father have been battling heroin addiction for more than 50 years. It hurt us all so much. Because of that I will never stop fighting the war on drugs!
How do you regenerate after giving yourself heavily to the music?
I think of the people I can help with my music. That gives me the strength to lay it all on the line time after time. I’ll always be transparent, because I want people to know they’re not alone.
What conditions do you need in your life in order to maintain creativity?
As long as I’m alive I’ll find something to write about. This world is a dark place, and I’ll always strive for the light!
Are there any books, albums, or films that have influenced your creative work?
There are too many to name, but I’ll give one for each. Book: The China Study. Album: Biohazard’s Urban Discipline. And film? Terminator 2.
Do you have any spiritual discipline that supports the creative life?
I’m a very spiritual person, and that’s the key to my creativity. It has helped me realize that this life is not ours to take — it’s ours to give.
If you had an artistic mission statement, what would it be?
Never let anything stop you from being you.
What’s next for Ferentz and The Felons?
July 13th our debut EP Hudson County is being released. We have some awesome shows coming up and we’re not planning on stopping any time soon!
Do you have anything to add?
Thank-you so much for taking the time to interview me. You have asked awesome questions and seem to be a master at your craft. Peace and love!