Porno for Pyros’ Peter DiStefano returns to Santa Monica roots with digital residency

Porno for Pyros founding guitarist Peter DiStefano grew up on the sounds of Elvis and used to find bandmates by skating down Ocean Front Walk in Santa Monica | Courtesy of the artist

By Anthony Torrise

The world seems to be in a constant state of panic lately. While some scream “apocalypse,” others are doing what they can to adapt to the times.

For Peter DiStefano, coronavirus (COVID-19) has done little to hinder his spirits as he continues to play through the chaos.

DiStefano — a Santa Monica native and founding guitarist for the ’90s alt-rock band Porno for Pyros — returned to his roots to play a residency at Harvelle’s earlier this March. The residency was set to continue through April, but the club was forced to shut down through at least April 1 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. DiStefano didn’t let that stop him. He moved his “residency” to a Facebook Live session.

Armed with his self-proclaimed “pyro pedal” (three floor pedals in one), the raised laptop that stands next to him, and a solid white hollow-body Les Paul, DiStefano is a one-man show. Yet, DiStefano’s energy can fill a stadium.

During his stream, no musical genre is off-limits to the seasoned guitarist. Hip-hop is a prominent part of DiStefano’s performances but he also throws in classic rock and jazz tracks. During his last live show at Harvelle’s, he played a stripped-down, haunting rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Your Time is Gonna Come” without a backing track.

Peter DiStefano | Courtesy of the artist

Around the middle of his 10-song set were DiStefano’s renditions of Tupac’s “All Eyez On Me” and remixes from electronica’s Lance Herbstrong.

“He keeps musically active like a modern-day troubadour, a man with a guitar who can do pretty much anything,” says friend, manager, producer and business partner, Douglas Kaplan.

DiStefano has a storied history in Santa Monica. He grew up in a family deeply influenced by music. His father, “Lawrence Welk” musician Vito DiStefano, inspired his son to play music.

“The happiest times were when my dad was playing for me, so I wanted to play music,” DiStefano says. “Then Elvis Presley blew my mind. You just couldn’t believe how bad he was. You know ‘Jailhouse Rock’? I was like, I want to do that. I want to be bad. Then I got into The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Ted Nugent, Peter Frampton. I looked for just anything real that I can find or hear, any genre of music.”

At 13 years old, DiStefano received his first guitar, a Hondo acoustic. Once he honed his playing skills, he looked for people to perform with by skating down Santa Monica’s Ocean Front Walk with fliers. Playing parties helped boost his confidence, and led to him to form his first band, the surf rock of K-38. Eventually, he folded in other genres like jazz, alt-rock and reggae.

After K-38 and his following ventures, DiStefano met Jane’s Addiction vocalist Perry Farrell while surfing. With drummer Stephen Perkins and bassist Martyn LeNoble, Porno for Pyros was born in 1992 after the initial breakup of Jane’s Addiction.

“It was (made for us) to completely live and write and record about how we lived,” DiStefano says. “The first record we wrote was recorded in two weeks and that was during the LA riots, so there was a lot of craziness and debauchery for that one. Then for the second record we toured all over the world, surfing.”

Their self-titled debut album briefly sat at No. 3 on the Billboard Top 200 with the song “Pets” topping the charts. The group only released one more album, 1996’s “Good God’s Urge” (which peaked at No. 13), before Porno for Pyros broke up when touring was made impossible by DiStefano’s cancer diagnosis.

Having beaten cancer and addiction, DiStefano keeps busy with music through a new breath of life. His discography includes 10 studio albums that are all platforms of experimentation for his influences. On top of that he also scores movies, with titles like “The Martian” and “Shrek the Third” under his belt.

Despite the world being under quarantine, DiStefano is making the best of it. He continues to express himself through art. Because connectivity is a touchstone of his work, DiStefano will continue to live stream his music at 9 p.m. Wednesdays on his Facebook page, “Peter DiStefano Tattoo Club.”

In his life, DiStefano has faced cancer, addiction, and now a pandemic, but music has remained a constant | Courtesy of the artist