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Perry Farrell gives ‘punk-jazz’ weirdos Porno for Pyros one last spark in a fond farewell

Perry Farrell in a black coat standing in front of a mural
Perry Farrell, frontman of Porno for Pyros and founder of Lollapalooza, an annual festival of multiple genres, is photographed at a studio in North Hollywood, where the band was practicing for their farewell tour.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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Porno for Pyros started their farewell show Sunday night in their hometown, Los Angeles, by giving the crowd an orgasm —musically, that is. Opening their Sunday night set at the Belasco with “Orgasm,” off their 1993 self-titled debut album, Farrell and his bandmates delivered a high-energy set blazing through their new song “Agua,” along with most of the songs from both of Porno for Pyros’ decades-old albums.

Farrell certainly knows how to host a party, and this night was no different. The charismatic frontman, whose elastic vocals are still in top form over 30 years after forming the group, frequently engaged with the audience and periodically sipped from a bottle of red wine on stage between songs. For Farrell and guitarist Peter DiStefano, bassist Mike Watt (who replaced the band’s original bassist, Martyn LeNoble) and drummer Stephen Perkins, along with touring keyboardist Robin Hatch and backing vocalist Etty Lau Farrell (Farrell’s wife) the electric, L.A. show was a goodbye for the group who announced their reunion and farewell tour last November.

At the end of the show, Perkins threw his drumsticks into the cheering crowd and Farrell said: “Thank you so much, L.A., I’ll never forget you.” The band then locked arms and took a bow together. Farrell stepped off the front of the stage and onto the floor where he took pictures with and hugged some of the fans, several of whom were in tears. As sad as it is for the band’s fans, however, it is even more so for the mercurial frontman.

A week before Porno for Pyros hit the road, Farrell is melancholy. Speaking to The Times over Zoom, he says, “I personally don’t really want it to be a farewell,” before wistfully staring into the distance as his eyes welled up with tears.

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Dressed casually in a blue-and-white-checked button-down shirt, white T-shirt and blue jacket, Farrell explains that he wants to maintain both Porno for Pyros and Jane’s Addiction, but feels backed into a corner by the music business, with the public’s passion for the latter band far surpassing its desire for Porno for Pyros.

“I often say if you give me a choice, I want both. Ask me if I want chocolate or vanilla, I want chocolate and vanilla,” Farrell says. “But the music industry is a funny thing. They like to go with a winning horse. They want Jane’s [Addiction] because the people want Jane’s. … Jane’s was first. … It’s about demand.”

With these remarks, and the debut of a new song, “True Love,” at a Jane’s Addiction concert in Bakersfield last year, it would seem that the legendary band is getting closer to having a new record to release, which Farrell is quick to confirm. Bassist Eric Avery (who rejoined the band in 2022 after a 12-year absence), guitarist Dave Navarro, who was unable to perform with Jane’s Addiction in 2022 and 2023 due to long COVID, and Perkins (who is also in Porno for Pyros) are all involved with the new album.

Man on a stage singing into a microphone in front of a band
Porno for Pyros members, from left, drummer Stephen Perkins, singer Perry Farrell and bassist Mike Watt practice in North Hollywood on Feb. 10.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Along with Jane’s Addiction’s recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination (they were also nominated in 2016 but ultimately not chosen to be inducted), the new record is exciting news for fans. Not only will this be Jane’s Addiction’s first new album since 2011’s “The Great Escape Artist,” but it will be the first time since 1990’s “Ritual de lo Habitual” that the classic lineup will appear together on a Jane’s Addiction record. As per Farrell, there might also be contributions from guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, who last year replaced Navarro on tour.

As to what stage the record is at or a release date, however, Farrell is tight-lipped and offers this comment instead: “The best news is that we’ve matured as men and musically, and I have already heard music that I’m very proud of.”

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Jane’s Addiction continues to set the comeback wheels in motion. Toward the end of May until early July, they will headline a tour through Europe for the first time in eight years. As to whether Navarro will join the band on their next outing, his manager Peter Katsis says they certainly hope he will be there, but it is too soon to determine. Speaking over the phone to The Times, Katsis says, “Dave is certainly getting better and is definitely excited about the work that’s been done on the new Jane’s music in the studio, but he is still working on recovering from some of the effects of some of the long-COVID-related issues.”

In the meantime, with Farrell’s focus turning away from Porno for Pyros and toward Jane’s Addiction, it seems reminiscent of the early ’90s, except in reverse. In 1991, it was Jane’s Addiction that Farrell said goodbye to before sparking up Porno for Pyros in 1992.

It might have been intimidating to proceed in the wake of an iconic band, but DiStefano tells The Times, over the phone, that he was confident in Porno for Pyros because the music sounded very different from Jane’s Addiction’s idiosyncratic mix of rock, glam, reggae, psychedelia, funk, heavy metal, goth and punk.

“The way Jane’s Addiction invented alternative rock, we were punk-jazz,” DiStefano says. “In terms of singers, Perry is one of one. He is like Van Gogh on the voice. He’s got a [vocal] range that’s crazy, so I started to incorporate Middle Eastern scales and jazz, doing chords that don’t go in rock and roll, but with a Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix vibe, and that’s why Porno for Pyros is so unique.”

As to the myth that the band’s provocative name was inspired by a fireworks ad inside a pornographic magazine, Farrell refutes it. “No,” he says. “I don’t look at porn.” A moment later, grinning, he adds: “And especially in front of people.”

Six people in a band posing outdoors
From left are Porno for Pyros members Peter DiStefano, Stephen Perkins, Robin Hatch, Mike Watt, Perry Farrell and Etty Lau Farrell.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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The origin story isn’t salacious in the least, Farrell says. Ahead of the Fourth of July holiday, during a Jane’s Addiction tour in 1991, Farrell was perusing a commercial fireworks catalog in the band’s dressing room before a concert. When he showed it to Stuart Ross, Jane’s Addiction’s then-tour accountant, Ross said it “looks like porno for pyros” to which Farrell said: “That’s what I’m going to name my next band.”

It also became the name of the band’s 1993 debut album, and its second track. Though the record landed at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart, driven by Jane’s Addiction fans’ early interest, Porno for Pyros never reached the meteoric success of its iconic predecessor. Still, several songs landed in the top 10 on the Billboard modern rock chart. “Cursed Female” and “Cursed Male,” were released together as the band’s co-lead single, with the former being made into the band’s first music video. Trippy, intense and heavy, featuring Farrell’s high-pitched wail, it landed at No. 3 on the modern rock chart. It was followed by “Pets,” which assumed the top chart position for five weeks. Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, its music video was also played in heavy rotation on MTV. With its somber, laid-back vibe, Farrell’s crooning vocals and its repetitive, catchy chorus, “We’ll make great pets,” the rhythmic song was more commercially appealing. Ironically, as per DiStefano, “Pets” was initially perceived to be a “throwaway song on the album,” but was propelled by phone-in requests to radio stations by those who had bought the record, and led to the band headlining slots at festivals.

By the time they were in the process of recording their 1996 sophomore record, “Good God’s Urge,” however, Porno for Pyros was showing signs of wear and tear. Due to the band’s internal strife, LeNoble quit and was replaced by legendary punk bassist Watt. Guests featured on the album included Navarro, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, and Love and Rockets’ Daniel Ash, David J. and Kevin Haskins. Lead single “Tahitian Moon” took the No. 8 position on Billboard’s modern rock chart and was listed by Spin as one of the 96 top alternative rock songs of 1996. But with its lyrics describing a capsized boat and uncertainty about making it back to shore, the song unwittingly foreshadowed the band’s demise, a byproduct of a reckless lifestyle rooted in heavy drug use.

“With Porno for Pyros, it was so dark,” Farrell notes. “It is like a story that you almost can’t believe the guys lived through.” It is especially true for DiStefano, who has been clean and sober for 26 1/2 years, but, at the time, was battling cancer and a heroin addiction, which, he says, made it “torture” to be in the band.

Except for a performance at Farrell’s 50th birthday party in 2009, the band lay dormant for 22 years until they played a virtual set, with Watt on bass, at the Lolla2020 livestream event, followed by several live appearances of Porno for Pyros’ original lineup in 2022, including Lollapalooza in Chicago.

With newfound momentum, last summer Porno for Pyros announced a 30th anniversary reunion tour, which was later postponed while the band wrote and recorded new music, including “Agua,” their first new song in 26 years, and their follow-up single “Little Me.”

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The rescheduled tour, however, was reframed as a farewell, and with Watt once again replacing LeNoble, who departed the band amicably this time.

In the meantime, ahead of his 65th birthday next month, Farrell shows no signs of slowing down, though he is jet-lagged upon returning from Lollapalooza India as he heads into a week of rehearsals in North Hollywood ahead of Porno for Pyros’ tour. Before Mumbai, he attended the Sundance Film Festival for the premiere of the first two episodes of the three-part docuseries “Lolla: The Story of Lollapalooza,” which Farrell co-produced.

Perry Farrell
“I personally don’t really want it to be a farewell,” Perry Farrell says of Porno for Pyros’ final tour.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Farrell has conflicted feelings about it. He is honored that it was made and expresses gratitude for the filmmakers, but reveals that he has not been keen to release a docuseries just yet. “My [business] partners wanted to,” Farrell says. “I honestly did not.” He explains that he feels it’s too early to tell the story of Lollapalooza because it’s still being told.

He also felt unsettled at Sundance, watching what he says was a different cut from what he had been shown previously. “That bothered me,” he says. “It was a little traumatic because, to be 100% honest, there were stories I would have liked to have told that didn’t make it. They were left on the cutting room floor … and I hang on to Lolla for spiritual reasons and that wasn’t portrayed.”

Farrell attends the legendary festival he co-founded every year. “I almost need it, like an addiction,” he says. He loves meeting the next generation of “real musicians,” those who take risks in life and write honest songs about their experiences. “I want to befriend them because I know I can trust them. They’re not cowards,” he says.

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If anyone has earned the right to preach about authentic artistry, it’s Farrell.

The man born Peretz Bernstein has been lauded as the “godfather of alternative rock.” He says he first learned of the title when he saw it written on his Wikipedia page.

“I was proud to be the alternative to bulls— music because it’s not easy to come up with alternative music,” Farrell says. “Most people, what they do is they hear something and then they want to be that too, so they just copy that sound.”

“But I never took the word alternative to mean rock,” he continues. “When I was coming up, what was important to my culture was alternative energy … solar power, wind power, hydropower. … The world is sick and needs to be healed. It needs to be taken off of oil and damaging plastic products … and if I can be part of that, and be known as one of the pioneers of that…”

Man in a jacket stands on stage with a microphone
“Porno for Pyros has a very special place in my heart,” Farrell says. “We write great music together. I really hope that the people will want us and that this [farewell] is just for now.”
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

A long-standing environmental activist, Farrell’s principles have remained steadfast throughout the years, but there have been some major changes in his life. He “very recently” gave up hard drugs, but says he still enjoys marijuana and red wine, both of which he considers to be spiritual. Since 2002, he has been married to Etty Lau Farrell, a singer/dancer whom he first met when she was a dancer on a Jane’s Addiction tour. The couple launched live electronic music series Heaven After Dark and have two sons together. (Farrell also has a son with ex-girlfriend Christine Cagle, who was featured on the “Good God’s Urge” album cover). Farrell now believes in God, whose existence he questioned for years, praying and devoting much of his time to studying mysticism. It keeps him from being overwhelmed by the current state of the world, he says.

Citing Israel and Gaza, Ukraine and Russia, gun violence, rape and sex trafficking, Farrell says: “It’s twice as dark as it’s ever been. … I start my mornings depressed, but then I start to study and I see the light.” Accordingly, he is adamant that humanity will redeem itself and vanquish the darkness.

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“It’s going to end because we’re going to unify. What will happen is the collective human mind will decide,” Farrell says. “We’re going to learn how to settle and live in harmony with our neighbors. All I think about is this cause … how to settle the world. I’m in a position to help because that’s what I do for a living. I want to use the universal language of music to bring people together … through Lolla … through other means.“

Until then, Farrell will unite people with his music and continue to spark nostalgia and set the stage on fire during the band’s farewell tour. “Porno for Pyros has a very special place in my heart,” he says. “We write great music together. I really hope that the people will want us and that this [farewell] is just for now.”

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