Justin Ancheta
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Justin Ancheta

Emeryville, California, United States | SELF

Emeryville, California, United States | SELF
Band World Reggae




"When Justin Ancheta took the stage..."

"When Justin Ancheta took the stage, I knew they were just what the doctor ordered to take away the worries of the week. Their over all feel to me was more in time with jazz and blues, rich in feeling and texture."

Ana Marie Soutela,
- cabands.com

"Gobal In Scope."

"A beat that is global in scope."

-Gus Thompson, - Auburn Journal

"Pills and Jackets take it to the streets"

It's an unseasonably hot night in late October, but Justin Ancheta, the lead singer of the band Pills and Jackets, is dressed in his usual outfit for the streets: gray wool cap, black jacket over a green hoodie, and a threadbare pair of jeans. Ancheta and the band are set up at the corner of Geary and Powell, facing the cable car line and the outermost palm trees of Union Square.
An audience of about 30 pedestrians - shoppers, college kids, barhoppers and a few homeless people - are huddled around the band. Ancheta drops his head and plays a single, drawn-out chord on his electric guitar. Drummer Jesse Olswang and bass guitarist Eric Alonzo add an easygoing beat and bass line. Pills and Jackets' music can range from a reggae sound reminiscent of Sublime, to a dense, textured rock a la Radiohead. Ancheta's voice, a tenor that often creeps into falsetto, is the unifying theme. Here, he begins to sing the lyrics to one of Pills and Jackets' signature tracks, "Counterculture."
"Structure this and structure that/ You think that's bliss and I think that's .../ Everyone's got their opinions/ so why not calm down/ This is the counterculture song ..."
The crowd gets into the swing of it. One woman in black stilettos hands a Macy's bag to her partner, then goes whirling across the sidewalk. Another woman, in shabby pink socks and no shoes, begins to stomp her feet rhythmically on the concrete.
None of it is out of the ordinary for a Pills and Jackets concert. The band performs street shows such as this three days a week, typically Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, at Geary and Powell between 8 and 10 p.m. The setting and time of their performances can vary, however, depending on the weather, the mood of the band and the mood of the police. Although street performances aren't illegal in the city, obstructing sidewalks and exceeding sound codes are.
For this reason, many of San Francisco's seasoned street performers choose to play at Fisherman's Wharf, where sidewalk space is ample and sound has plenty of room to die out. Other popular locations are Haight Street, the Ferry Building and Market Street between Fifth and Third streets. Pills and Jackets has tried each of these locations, but Geary and Powell is their preferred spot. Thanks to a souped-up car-battery-turned- amplifier, the band's music can compete with the soaring urban spaces here. And with the constant stream of shoppers flowing out of Macy's and Saks, the band is never hurting for a crowd.
"There's a positive energy to the streets here," says Ancheta. "There's been times when there's, like, a suited man, a bum and an old lady, and they're all getting down. It's all impromptu. It's the best when there's no expectations, and everyone comes together and spontaneously it happens.
"Sometimes out here," Alonzo adds, "(we're) doing things you could never do in a club, just the connection with the people, that rawness."
Pills and Jackets has been working the streets of San Francisco for two years. The band is originally from the Sacramento area, where Ancheta, Olswang and Alonzo (all in their mid-20s) grew up and played under the band name Sinclair for seven years. They released a self-produced album in their hometown, played a few clubs on a monthly basis and built a small following through college house parties at Chico State and Sacramento State, but mainstream attention eluded them.
In 2006, the band decided San Francisco, and its streets in particular, would be the best way to broaden their exposure. They started street performing six and seven days a week. They had sold all of 500 copies of their album before coming to the city, but they would sell 10,000 in the year that followed. The band started mingling with, and building its sound alongside, other street performers, some of whom played instruments as unusual as the Australian didgeridoo. The band also came to befriend familiar faces, going as far as to hire one homeless man as manager. To this day, the man, Dennis Hitchcock, prays over Pills and Jackets' money bucket at the onset of most shows.
"I'll tell you what, man," Ancheta says with a laugh, "every time he prays over our little bucket thing, it's like double the amount of money we make in tips."
Despite Ancheta's good humor about it, street performing is still a hardscrabble life. The band pays for rent, food, studio time and equipment with the dollars people slide into their jar. If it's raining for a week, rent becomes a problem. If one of the band members catches cold, as Ancheta did last winter, there's further cause for concern. Ancheta has been arrested for violating sound ordinances. Olswang has had to tape up his drumsticks, and Alonzo settled for a smaller bass cab to avoid similar brushes with the law. Supporting their music by way of the street is one thing; compromising their sound because of it is another.
So, in late 2006, when one of the band's newfound contacts here offered to put them in touch with a producer in Seattle, they jumped at the opportunity. The producer, Matt Shaw, has worked with Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins and Gin Blossoms and has won a Grammy for his efforts. Recently, Shaw started his own label, Hit Pit Records, and is looking for fresh bands to define it. When Pills and Jackets road-tripped up to Seattle and played their music for Shaw, the producer was impressed.
"They're sort of a Bay Area progressive, hippie, rock band," says Shaw, "but they've got a good world beat influence. Their music can be very soft, very driving; it's really wide ranging."
Shaw invited the band to record a full-length album at his studio. Pills and Jackets did so during two lengthy recording sessions earlier this year.
"What the street brings the band is an of-the-moment creativity," Shaw says. "How you shape that in the studio, you give them good sounds and let that sound prompt them to their creativity like the street does."
Shaw is in the final stages of mixing Pills and Jackets' album. He says that once it's finished, Hit Pit will look to release the music largely online, through independent music distributors like Indiemarketer.com. The tentative release date is set for Feb. 1. "I think the album could do very well," Shaw says.
Of course, until the album drops, Pills and Jackets is stuck in the waiting game. Which means three days a week on the streets of San Francisco, likely through winter and into spring.
"We really do enjoy playing the streets, not in the cold, but on a good day, we've had great times," Ancheta says. "We're definitely looking to be more professional, though. Someday, it'd be nice just to go out to the streets and donate the money to a good cause. That'd be in an ideal world."
To see video of Pills and Jackets, go to sfgate.com.
To hear the band, go to www.myspace.com/pillsandjackets.
This article appeared on page E - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Andrew Tolle, Special to the SF Chronicle - SF Chronicle


Full Length LPs:
Justin Ancheta Acoustic - 'Chamber' -2006
Justin Ancheta with Mostro - 'Mostro' - 2006
Justin Ancheta with Sinclair - 'Sinclair' - 2004
Justin Ancheta with Pills & Jackets - 'Pills & Jackets - 2007 www.pillsandjackets.com

Sinclair - 2003 5 song EP
Pills & Jackets - 2006 5 song EP

As heard on BagelRadio.com, NorthWest College Radio stations, and online radio sites across the world.




The Justin Ancheta Band is a positively-charged, high-energy band from San Francisco. They bring together exotic world sounds with some heavy doses of funk and reggae. Lacing socially-conscious lyrics with horn, violin and guitar melodies over a steady foundation of drums, percussion, and bass, the band creates a dance party for everyone to enjoy. Locally acclaimed, they play venues such as the IndependentSlim’sYoshi’s, and the Great American Music Hall, while their tour schedule has taken them from Barcelona to Hawaii. After more than a decade of shows and touring, they have shared the stage with The WailersJoan BaezCreedence Clearwater SurvivalCharles Neville and many more musical luminaries.

The Justin Ancheta Band’s music is an invitation to dance, while the music and lyrics are complex and intelligent and leave a sweet aftertaste in the heart and soul.


“A beat that is global in scope.” — Gus Thompson, Auburn Journal

“One of the best and brightest bands…” — Mark S. Allen, Good Morning Sacramento (KMAX Channel 31)


  • Justin Ancheta  - guitar, vocals
  • Damian Sol - violin
  • Alex Scammon - saxophone, clarinet
  • Jesse Weber – percussion
  • Marlon Aldana - drums
  • Adam Lowdermilk - bass

Album Releases

Plant — April 2013

Press Contact


Downloadable One-Sheet

For those who prefer to read about the band offline, download our one-sheet PDF here.

Band Members