“I remember running over to Carlos Santana and asking him to bless my pick to allow me to cross through the portal of his powers”: Porno For Pyros are NOT over – but Peter DiStefano already has a lifetime of tales from the band

Peter DiStefano
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When Porno for Pyros – Perry Farrell’s mistress outside of Jane’s Addiction – regrouped in 2022, they confirmed their return with the new track Pete’s Dad. Fans of the group’s alt-meets-funk-meets-jazz mix hoped big things were ahead for vocalist Farrell, drummer Stephen Perkins, bassist Mike Watt and guitarist Peter DiStefano.

But much to everyone’s surprise, at the end of 2023 original bassist Martyn LeNoble, who’d come back into the fold, departed once again, leaving the band to announce a farewell road trip called the Horns, Thorns en Halos tour.

Hold on to your hat, though – DiStefano, one of the few guitarists who’s managed to capture Farrell’s attention beyond Dave Navarro, tells Guitar World there’s been a change of plans.

“When we made the announcement, we thought, ‘We’re going to do this. Let’s put an end to this great band, and we can do it on our terms,’” the guitarist and movie score writer says. “For the longest time, because of how it ended back then, it felt unfinished, so this was our chance.

“But then Perry and I were sitting together, and we just started crying our eyes out. Perry said, ‘No, it’s not the end; we’ve got to do more.’ And I said, ‘Okay, great. Let’s do it.’ So, it’s not the end. We’re back together, and we’re going to do more. I found this out 15 minutes before this call.”

And so, for now, at least, it seems that DiStefano will have a chance to add to the band’s legacy, which includes two standout records in Porno for Pyros (1993) and Good God’s Urge (1996). Time will tell how that shakes out – but regardless, he’ll be by Farrell’s side until the end.

How did you first meet Perry Farrell?

“I had lived around Santa Monica, California, in my little surf band K-38, which had a single called For Those Who Listen. That didn’t do much, but I kept getting deeper into music. I had been childhood friends with bassist Eric Avery, and when he ended up in Jane’s Addiction, I got to know Perry.”

And how did Porno for Pyros form?

“Perry lived with a guy called Greg Lampkin, who – God rest his soul – heard my playing and was like, ‘Hey, Peter would be cool for your stuff.’ Perry was like, ‘Yeah, maybe he would… let’s go on a surfing trip and see.’

“So we went surfing together and were hanging out in this cabana, and I said, ‘Look, we have similar influences; maybe this could work.’ We went back to L.A., hung out, and he saw me fingerpicking some classic stuff.

“Perry was just blown away. He said, ‘I’ve never seen anyone do that,’ and we jammed some more. But the thing was that Jane’s Addiction was so big and powerful then, and I declined to do it because I didn’t want the world to hate me.

“Then, when Jane’s was going on a break, Perry showed me a version of what would become Orgasm, and I was like, ‘This is different from Jane’s Addiction.’ We started calling it punk-jazz, and that’s because of the improvisation, which came because we were spinning a lot of John Coltrane. It was different, and I could see myself getting into it, so I decided to say ‘Yes’ to Perry.”

Since Perry had worked so closely with Dave Navarro, did you feel any pressure to sound like him?

“No. I knew we couldn’t be better than Jane’s Addiction… until I heard the music we recorded with Porno. That’s when I was like, ‘Okay, instead of barre chords, riffs, and pentatonic scales, we can have diminished scales, harmonic minors, and chromatics. It had to be different.

“Perry already has the most recognizable voice of his era, so I wanted to bring real balls and power. I wanted distorted guitars. I wanted punk rock vibes. But I also wanted to bring jazz into things – I had to find a way to be different enough so people would say, ‘Okay, so that’s Jane’s Addiction, but this is Porno for Pyros.’”

The self-title debut was a huge hit. I assume that was unexpected. 

Pets was No. 1 for like five weeks. That’s crazy! I had no idea that was gonna happen – especially with the lyrics Perry was writing, which were about children being robbed of innocence, teenagers being fucked up, and adults being even more fucked in the head. Who would have thought that type of stuff would be a hit?”

Why do you feel Porno for Pyros resonated?

“I have my theory. I never brought this up until two years ago. I grew up with a girl named Vriana Dean, who you can look up – she was murdered in California in 1978. Vriana was this girl I fell in love with in seventh grade. She was in my cooking class, and didn’t show up one day. So, this horrible thing happened in Santa Monica on the North Side, where she and her brother were murdered. That shook up our community.

“So I wrote this song, Vriana Dean, and I had that riff with me for years. One day, I showed it to Perry while in the garage, and he got into it and said, ‘Pick up the pace.’ So I did, and he came up with lyrics on the spot. That’s the song that became Pets. So, I believe Vriana’s spirit helped make it No. 1.”

She and her brother were murdered. That shook up our community… I wrote this song and I had that riff for years. That’s the song that became Pets

What gear did you lean on most in those days?

“The album was done in 10 days, and I did the whole thing with a 4x12 Marshall JCM800, with a Music Man head that went into the stack. It was three cabinets of 4x12s, and the head going into the two speakers, and that was it.

“I also had a 1968 Sola Sound Colorsound Tonebender Fuzz, and I used a Boss Super Overdrive SD-1, an original Ibanez Tube Screamer TS808, and a Boss Digital Delay DD-3.

“I had an Ibanez 12-string double-neck guitar for Pets, and I used a violin bow like Jimmy Page in some spots. Other than that, it was my mid-’70s Gibson Les Paul and my Fender Strat, which I turned into an Eddie Van Halen thing, with one pickup in the bridge and one volume knob.”

While on tour, Porno for Pyros supported Neil Young and played Woodstock ’94. What was that like?

“It was magical for me to open for Neil. I remember being in Paris, watching Neil – and crying. I couldn’t believe I was sharing the same stage. To open for my hero was unreal. And playing at Woodstock in between Bob Dylan and The Allman Brothers was wild. 

“We came on and I looked at 350,000 people… it was a different level than I’d ever seen before. I remember running over to Carlos Santana, who was on a different stage, and asking him to bless my pick to allow me to cross through the portal of his powers.”

My rig was dysfunctional… then I saw Neil Young playing with this tiny amp in these big spaces, and I was like, ‘Wow. I need to try that’

What did your rig look like for Woodstock?

“I used the same studio rig I used with Neil. It was loud out front, and I couldn’t hear my guitar on the sides; it was dysfunctional. And then I saw Neil playing with this tiny amp in these big spaces, and I was like, ‘Wow. I need to try that.’ 

“I went to Woodstock with a small Fender Blues Deluxe that maybe had two speakers, and I had my Colorsound, Super Distortion, Tube Screamer and Digital Delay.”

How did that experience inform your approach for Good God’s Urge?

“I went in with the idea that I’d use my guitar as a sound device rather than just a traditional guitar. I’d plug and unplug my guitar cable while playing and make these disjointed noises, so it was more than just scales.

“But the biggest thing is the first record took 10 days, while the second record took two years and six months. The expression of our art was very different. The first record was explosive, while the second was worldly.”

Meanwhile, your drug issues were taking hold.

“I had gone through eight drug rehabs by 1998 because I was extremely addicted to heroin, the needle and the spoon. I was shooting up vodka and pills directly into my veins, and then I was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

“So I wasn’t just a junkie, I was a bald junkie. It was so bad that I was supposed to die – it was supposed to end. I’m lucky it didn’t.”

How did you get clean?

“I’m 26 years sober. I got lucky. But when I was crumbling and finishing my final rehab, Perry had no choice but to move on with Jane’s Addiction. It was like, ‘Oh, Peter’s gonna die. It’s over.’ 

“I had this out-of-body experience; I got it together and got into film scores. I’ve made a 25-year career of making music for movies, television and video games. I was able to buy a house, put my kids through college, and now I’m getting back into Porno for Pyros.”

Some say making music on drugs is very different from making music sober. Has that been the case for you?

“Nah, it’s all the same to me. Doesn’t matter what your crisis is – you’re going to pay a price for it. Life is hard, and it’s even harder if you’ve got a drug problem. That’s my crisis, but there are still worse things in the world, like wars, climate change, places in the world burning, and us ruining the Earth.

“So if the worst is that I have to deal with my crisis and find a way to stop using plastic parts on my instruments, I can handle that.”

What brought Porno for Pyros back together?

“Perry and I have been playing together on his solo records. But in 2022, Jane’s was booked for the Rockville, and Dave couldn’t go, so it was suggested that we get Porno back together. I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ It went well.

“So Perry said, ‘Hey, why don’t we do some more gigs?’ We did that, and at the end of 2023, we did some recording, which will be an EP. The first song we put out was Pete’s Dad, and we plan to release more, one song at a time.”

Has your rig changed much?

“It’s the same, but I have a Dunlop Cry Baby, and the Colorsound is gone. I’ve got a modern Tube Screamer, Super Distortion and Digital Delay. I still have the Marshall, but I go directly into a Bogner amp for a clean sound, and I have my effects loop into my Marshall.”

You recently announced a farewell tour…

We both started crying and Perry said, ‘I love you, Pete. I love playing music with you. This is not the end’

“Just before I got [on the call] with you, I was sitting with Perry, and we were looking directly at each other for the first time since we went surfing together like a month ago, and we both started crying, and he said, ‘I love you, Pete. I love playing music with you. This is not the end.’

“So as of right now, this is not the end of Porno for Pyros. It’s changed from a farewell tour to playing more gigs and making more music. 

“I’m happy to do it because I love music, and we’re lucky to be alive. If Perry needs to keep playing with me, then I need to keep playing with him.”

  • Porno For Pyros’ US tour kicks off in February 2024. Tickets are available via PornoForPyros.com.

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Andrew Daly

Andrew Daly is an iced-coffee-addicted, oddball Telecaster-playing, alfredo pasta-loving journalist from Long Island, NY, who, in addition to being a contributing writer for Guitar World, scribes for Rock Candy, Bass Player, Total Guitar, and Classic Rock History. Andrew has interviewed favorites like Ace Frehley, Johnny Marr, Vito Bratta, Bruce Kulick, Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Rich Robinson, and Paul Stanley, while his all-time favorite (rhythm player), Keith Richards, continues to elude him.