He lobbied to work with Eagles of Death Metal but would have gone to the show regardless: “Thomas was a true believer”
Thomas Ayad wasn’t assigned to work on the new Eagles of Death Metal album — he asked for the job and persisted until his bosses agreed. “Thomas wanted to do this project so much because they were one of his favorite bands, and he went out of his way to convince us,” says Andrew Daw, senior vp strategic marketing at Universal Music Group International (UMGI). “It’s a sad twist to the whole scenario.”
Ayad, a 32-year-old international product manager for Mercury Records in France, was one of three current and former Universal employees killed during the Eagles of Death Metal concert. Manu Perez, 40, was a onetime product manager at Polydor France, and Marie Mosser, 24, had interned at Mercury Music International and was about to begin a full-time job. Several other Universal employees were at the show and escaped. “It could’ve been any of us,” noted Daw.
Ayad’s death touched not only colleagues he had worked with in the United States, England and France, but also musicians who knew him. When Republic Records artist James Bay played a show in Washington, D.C., the next night, he placed a photo of Ayad onstage next to his amps. “Tonight was tough, having lost a friend in the Paris attack,” Bay posted on Twitter.
Billboard talked to a half-dozen of Ayad’s co-workers, who recalled his jovial enthusiasm for hard rock, food and plain talk. “Thomas had a blend of gentleness, fun, kindness and sarcasm — please mention the sarcasm,” says Antoine Boudie, a Universal project manager. The two friends formed a band with a few other colleagues and rehearsed songs by The Strokes, Queens of the Stone Age, Arctic Monkeys and Kings of Leon. “Awful cover songs,” says Boudie with a laugh. But Ayad, who played guitar and harmonica, “was very passionate about getting the songs right.”
Dan Kanter, Justin Bieber’s guitarist and musical director, credits Ayad for helping him meet Metallica singer James Hetfield in November 2011. “Thomas and I were both big Metallica fans,” says Kanter. “I was in Paris with Justin when Metallica were doing a show on French TV. They didn’t want any guests in the studio, but Thomas let me tag along and pretend I was his intern. He was so kind — he went out of his way for Justin, of course, but also for everyone. I saw him a few weeks ago in Paris. We talked about Metallica — we always talked about Metallica.”
“Thomas was a gentle and warm person, which you don’t always find in this business,” says Michael Alexander, senior vp international marketing at Universal Music Group. “On days when the rest of us were exhausted, Thomas would say, ‘We love music — that’s why we’re here.’ He was a true believer.”
Ayad grew up in Amiens, a small city in the north of France, and after graduating from ESC Amiens, an elite grande ecole outside the country’s university system, went right into the music business. He played field hockey and reveled in traveling. “Moi je vais toujours tres bien, et toi?” he wrote in 2010 after posting to Facebook a photo from a snowy mountainside. “I’m always doing very well, how about you?”
“Thomas loved to go to concerts,” says Zoe Stavrakis, promotion coordinator at UMGI. In particular, Ayad was excited to see Eagles of Death Metal. “He was so happy that this gig at Bataclan was sold out,” says Olivier Nusse, managing director of Mercury Music Group and Universal Classic & Jazz France.
Friends say that if Ayad hadn’t been working on the Eagles of Death Metal album, he would have been at the show anyway. “If you asked Thomas, he would probably say that if he was going to go out, that’s how he would want it to happen — at a rock concert,” says Daw.
Ayad is survived by a brother, his parents and a girlfriend, Christelle, with whom he had a civil union. The couple were about to buy a house together. — Rob Tannenbaum
A devoted father and hardworking cameraman who frequented concerts and made his friends laugh
The day after attending the Eagles of Death Metal show at Le Bataclan, Mathieu Hoche had planned to meet friends in his native Normandy to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their tennis club. The 37-year-old father and camera technician for the France 24 news station had been playing for years, even spending summer vacations as a teen at tennis camp with childhood friend Antoine Rousseau.
“He was very funny, very open and with a big heart,” says Rousseau, who was due to pick up Hoche from the train station in Normandy on Nov. 14.
Hoche had worked at France 24 since the channel was established in 2006. Colleagues remember him as a “good guy” who was “always smiling.”
“He was just a lovely person,” says France 24 international correspondent Melissa Bell, who started at the station a year after Hoche. “He was well-respected by everyone. Someone who did his job well and was always kind.”
Rousseau and others recall that Hoche also adored music. “He was a fan of rock in all its forms,” says France 24 cameraman Julien Lherbier. “He was often at concerts and music events. A true music lover.”
A devoted husband and father, Hoche doted on his 9-year-old son, Basile, from the very beginning. “My wife and I thought he was very sweet with his son, almost too sweet,” says Rousseau. “We thought it was a bit strange until we had a child of our own. Then we understood.”
Instead of celebrating their tennis club’s 30th year this past weekend, Hoche’s friends from around the country gathered in his hometown of Siouville-Hague, four hours by car from Paris.
“He was someone who gave a lot,” says Rousseau. “We are really going to miss him.” — Erin Zaleski
The beloved ad executive and father of two enjoyed grunge music and played the guitar
If a man’s work indicates how he lived, then Fabrice Dubois embraced wit and light. For more than 12 years he worked as a senior copywriter at Publicis, a French multinational advertising and PR firm, crafting off-kilter and breezy campaigns for major corporations and non-government organizations. “Everybody appreciated his kindness and his talent,” says a colleague who asked to remain anonymous to keep the focus on Dubois. “He loved a lot of things: He was a tennis player, he loved cinema and music, and he played the guitar.” That love of music took him and a group of friends to Le Bataclan on Nov. 13. “His musical tastes were very grunge,” his sister Nathalie told Paris Match, describing the 6-foot-7 Dubois as “extremely gentle and shy.” When terrorists stormed the theater, he was standing in the mosh pit.
On Nov. 16, Publicis employees returned to a firm reeling from the loss — not just of Dubois, but also 37-year-old Yannick Minvielle, a creative director in the firm’s communications arm, who also sang in a rock band. Three others remain hospitalized with gun wounds to the stomach and legs. A fourth employee was put in an artificial coma, but since has been revived. Dubois’ colleague describes the first day back as heavy and filled with silence. “People were in a state of shock and grieving.”
Dubois, who was 46, is survived by his wife, Alexia, and their two children: Iris, 13, and Hector, 11. Colleagues have set up an online fundraising campaign to support his family. “People in advertising spend a lot of time at the agency,” says Dubois’ co-worker. “They become our real friends. It’s like a family. A lot of people who worked with them are profoundly hurt.” — William Lee Adams
A merchandise manager who was more rock star than the rock stars he worked for
Nick Alexander worked as a concert merchandise manager but he dressed like a rock star. In a job that’s done far from the spotlight, Alexander made such an impression on bands like Sum 41 and Alice in Chains that tributes started pouring in as soon as he was identified among the victims of the attack at Le Bataclan.
“You don’t remember everyone,” says Jim Runge, a tour manager for The Black Keys, “but you remembered him.”
Nicknamed “Handsome Nick,” Alexander took his share of ribbing for wearing skinny jeans, boots and his beloved black leather jacket — whatever the occasion or the weather. “We were at a dusty English festival, and Nick walked in with thin jeans, English boots and perfect hair when everyone else was wearing Converse and shorts,” remembers Runge. “When my son met Nick, he thought he was a member of Oasis.”
Alexander, 36, grew up in Colchester in Essex, England, and worked as teenager selling programs at music festivals. “Most kids just wanted to go in and see the bands,” says his sister Zoe, “but Nick was precise and professional, selling as many as he could and handing in exact change, with everything accounted for.” In his 20s, Alexander ran club nights at the Colchester Arts Centre and a local bar, then began working as a merchandise manager at European concerts, starting with a Jesse Malin U.K. tour. He lived in London’s Notting Hill, but he spent most of his time on one tour bus or another. “Touring,” says Zoe, “became the fabric of his life.”
Work was fun, too. On a 2013 Sum 41 tour, the band arrived in Fargo, N.D., for a concert, only to realize that Alexander wasn’t on the tour bus. “He had gone out in Winnipeg, and he was still at a bar,” remembers Sum 41 bassist Cone McCaslin. “He took a taxi — it was four hours — and made the show.”
Sum 41 liked Alexander so much that the band hired him in North America — and invited his girlfriend, Polina Buckley, on tour for a few days. “He wasn’t just selling shirts for us,” says Sum 41 singer Deryck Whibley. “He was part of the whole thing.”
In Paris, Alexander went to Le Bataclan that night with Helen Wilson, an ex-girlfriend. As usual, he was behind the Eagles of Death Metal merchandise table, clad in skinny jeans and his leather jacket. “If there was any glamour in that job,” says Alice in Chains frontman William DuVall, “it was because Nick added it.” — Rob Levine
GUILLAUME B. DECHERF
An “unforgettable” rock journalist who balanced a love of heavy metal with raising two daughters
Two nights after he attended the Eagles of Death Metal concert at Le Bataclan, Guillaume B. Decherf was supposed to cover Motorhead’s show at Le Zenith in Paris for the magazine Les Inrockuptibles. Decherf had broad tastes, but hard rock and heavy metal were his beat: His recent reviews included AC/DC, Mastodon and his favorite band, Iron Maiden. He looked the part, too, with his shoulder-length hair, earrings and vintage T-shirts. “It was impossible to forget him after you had met him,” says Azzedine Fall, his editor at Les Inrockuptibles’ website.
Guillaume Barreau-Decherf, 43, was born in Bar-le-Duc, a small town in northeastern France. While studying in Paris in the early 1990s, he spent a year at Loughborough University in England through the Erasmus student exchange program and hosted a heavy metal show on the campus radio station. After graduating from the school of journalism in Lille in 1999, he began his music-writing career at the Liberation newspaper. He subsequently edited Hard Rock magazine and wrote for the French edition of Rolling Stone, along with Metro, where he also covered films, books and comics, before finding a freelance berth at Les Inrockuptibles in 2008. “We will remember Guillaume as a very good journalist and a very nice guy we all loved,” says Alain Gouvrion, the editor-in-chief at Rolling Stone in France.
Fall describes Decherf as a passionate professional who generated his own ideas. Decherf also published a biography of veteran French band Indochine, No Rest for the Adventurer, in 2010. His biggest challenge was juggling his work commitments with the task of raising two daughters, Salome and Seraphine, with his partner, Flo. “At worst, as with homework in high school, I finish writing my articles at night. It boosts inspiration,” he wrote on the social networking site Copains D’avant. Despite his family responsibilities, he wrote with self-mocking humor, “I continue to honor Parisian cultural life with my august presence.” In an obituary for newspaper Le Parisien, his fellow critic and frequent concert companion Eric Bureau described Decherf as “one of the best and most lovable music journalists.”
Decherf’s penultimate album review for Les Inrockuptibles was Zipper Down by Eagles of Death Metal, the band he was excited about seeing at Le Bataclan. He praised a record “moved solely by the desire to please” and signed off with a celebratory shout: “Pleasure shared!” —Dorian Lynskey
?This story will appear in the Nov. 28 issue of Billboard.