Thomas Ayad, a marketing manager at Mercury Music Group/Universal in Paris, would do anything for the bands he worked with – including travel internationally to see them live. "He'd go to Germany to see [industrial-metal band] Rammstein," Ayad's friend and co-worker Antoine Boudie tells Rolling Stone. "You get into this business because you love to go to shows and listen to music. Any time his favorite bands, like Metallica and Rammstein, were in France, he was there. We talked about music all day, every day; all night every night."
Last Friday, the 32-year-old eagerly attended the Paris concert by one of his favorites, Eagles of Death Metal, both as a fan and employee. He'd previously championed the band at Mercury, marching into his boss' office and asking for the label to take on the band, a group that could have gone to other labels in France when its deal was negotiated from the U.S. counterparts. He told his bosses, Mercury Managing Director Olivier Nusse and the label's Head of International Marketing Development Quentin Pestre, that he personally wanted to work on that band's album.
Ayad was one of 89 victims of last week's terrorist attack at concert venue Bataclan. Universal Music Group CEO Lucian Grainge confirmed his death in a memo on Saturday, calling the massacre an "unspeakably appalling tragedy."
In the nearly eight years that Ayad worked at Mercury, most recently as International Project Manager, he helped create ad campaigns, manage schedules and budgets, coordinate initiatives across the label's sales, promo and digital teams and work with artists' managers. He was beloved by both his colleagues and the musicians he encountered on the job and by all accounts, loved his job and was primarily a music fan. "He managed to have a very special connection with the bands he loved and worked with and he cared about them deeply," Boudie says.
In the days since his death was announced, several multiplatinum artists have posted tributes to Ayad online. Metallica, one of Ayad's favorite bands, posted a photo of him with frontman James Hetfield and included a note calling him "a warm, helpful, supportive familiar face each time we visited France." Rammstein wrote on Facebook that working with him was a "great pleasure." Justin Bieber called Ayad a friend and wrote, "I wish I would've had more time to thank him."
Keith Richards sent condolences to Ayad's family and friends and posted a photo of them together; the Rolling Stones made an image of the French flag with their tongue logo in the middle in remembrance of Ayad and two other Universal employees, Marie Mosser and Manu Perez, who also died at Bataclan. And in a statement, Eagles of Death Metal described Ayad as one of their "record company comrades."
"He was that kind of guy, not satisfied by doing only what he had to; he was always looking for new projects," Pestre tells Rolling Stone. "Eagles of Death Metal is really special not because of where he was on Friday, but because he really wanted to get that project. He was a big fan of the band and of their music." Pestre adds that when Ayad finally met Eagles members Jesse Hughes and Josh Homme at a different Paris concert earlier this year, "It was an accomplishment for him in a way."
"He was so enthusiastic, so devoted to the job, to life, and he was able to share his enthusiasm with everybody with lots of humor," Nusse says. "Supporting some international artists is not always easy, but he had humor and enthusiasm that he could give to the others."
"His job was demanding, but he loved the fact that it was demanding," Pestre adds.
Ayad, who is survived by his girlfriend, Christelle, a brother and his parents, was born on October 16th, 1983 in Amiens, France to an Algerian father and French mother. He attended college at that city's École supérieure de commerce d'Amiens, a trade school that trained him in business.
He began working in the music industry at V2 Records, where he was hired as a press officer after completing an internship there. Later, he worked at ULM – a Universal label that later merged with Mercury – also as a press officer. In 2009, Mercury promoted him from ULM to their international project manager, the title he held until his death.
"As soon as I met him, I immediately understood that he would be an important part of the family we were developing at Mercury," Nusse says. "He was the kind of person we were expecting a long career for. He was so young and so good, he could have reached a bigger position here."
During his time at the company, his accomplishments included the successful promotion of albums by Mark Knopfler, Gotye and Placebo, among others.
In addition to what Nusse calls Ayad's "gymnastic" ability to juggle projects, his co-workers will remember him best for his charisma and amiability. "He was always in good humor," says Zoe Stavrakis, who handles promo coordination in the international department and who shared an office with Ayad. "We would just laugh so hard that often our colleagues down the hall would come and stick their heads in the room and be like, 'What are you guys laughing about?' This happened a lot. He was extremely funny. I don't even think I saw him in a bad mood once."
Music was Ayad's life outside of work, too. Pestre describes him as a "quite good guitarist," with whom he played in a cover band alongside Boudie. "We just played songs by bands we listened to [like] Arctic Monkeys and Queens of the Stone Age; that kind of stuff," Pestre says. Stavrakis adds that Ayad and Boudie would also regularly serenade her with their guitars.
When Ayad wasn't playing music, he loved to travel and participate in adventurous activities like skydiving and mountain climbing. He vacationed in Japan and Australia, always purposefully picking someplace exotic. "He wouldn't just go to the beach next door," Stavrakis says.
"He was very open to the world," Pestre says. "He really loved the fact that he was working in the international department here, getting in touch with the U.K., U.S. and Australia."
Ayad's close friend and co-worker Boudie will always remember him for his gentleness. "He was just the best friend you can imagine," he says. "He was always there for you. He was the best guy ever."