Formed around the core duo of Henry Font (vocals, guitars) and Val.Ium (bass, backing vocals), the band released two demos in the early 1990s, the second of which, Urine the Money, was produced by Josh Silver of Type O Negative. The band's friendship with Type O Negative (also based out of Brooklyn) brought them both help and scorn in subsequent years.
In 1996 the band, now rounded out by Paul Poulos (guitars, backing vocals) and Danny "Jam" Kavadlo (drums), released their first full-length album, Number One, to critical acclaim in both the United States and Europe. Subsequent tours with Type O Negative and Marilyn Manson helped improve the band's notoriety. Within a year, they moved from the independent Mayhem/Fierce record label to a major label, Atlantic Records. Also around this time, Poulos and Kavaldo each made the decision to leave the band.
New members Burton Gans (guitars) and Jeff McManus (drums) joined in time to see an Atlantic rerelease of Number One with new photos, artwork, and, perhaps most obvious of all, spelling; the band's name shifted from "Pist.On" to the "friendlier" spelling "PistOn". The removal of the "." led to endless criticism that the band had "sold out". Under the guise of their new name and label, the band again toured exhaustively. During this time, drummer Jeff McManus was forced into a brief respite for medical reasons, with Johnny Kelly of Type O Negative graciously filling in.