I was in Austria when I got the news that Nick John had succumbed to pancreatic cancer. Standing by a farmhouse on a mountain in Eisenerz surrounded by co-workers for a celebratory event, I was instantly taken out of the moment and back to the multiple memories I had of Mastodon and Gojira’s manager. While I certainly didn’t know him as well as many, he’d left an impression on me as one of the best there is, and there’s absolutely a void in the metal industry without him.
The first time I met Nick was probably not all that long after Mastodon met him. Having first met the ‘Don after a band I was in played a few weeks of shows with them in 2003, I quickly bonded with the genial good-time nature of the Atlanta band and their tour manager, who happened to be Troy Sanders’ brother. Having just played Hellfest in Elizabeth, NJ one year later, the band and friends convened at a hotel bar by the Newark Airport. About to release their sophomore album Leviathan, there was a palpable buzz around the record and band. There was chatter around the bar that Slayer’s management was sweating them pretty hard, and over the course of several drinks, we found out that they were there. We all know what happened next – the band’s sophomore album was a masterpiece, (see my pre-Syndicate/Metal Insider review for Billboard here) and within two years, Nick John was their manager.
Here’s the thing about managers – most of them are dicks. I don’t even mean that in a purely negative way. To navigate the choppy waters of the music industry, they need to be demanding, pushy and sometimes overbearing to do what’s right for their artists. They also serve as babysitters at times, which leads even their artists to hate them at times. Nick, however, was always calm in the face of adversity, smiling when others would rant, rationally dealing with irrational band members and a zen master in the art of getting things done without raised tempers. While my dealings with him as a metal radio promoter were mainly conducted via email, he was always quick to respond and always happy to see me when we met in person.
While his wife Colleen and immediate family are particularly feeling the loss, Mastodon were hit pretty hard as well, as they definitely consider him family. One of the few metal bands from the last 20 years to make a jump to a major label and thrive, they’ve grown immeasurably due to the steady guiding hand of John. While Leviathan was a huge step forward from Remission, no one could have predicted that they’d become a band with multiple mainstream rock tracks, a Grammy, and fans that have stuck with them since the beginning. It’s a balancing act that not many bands could pull off, and I’m sure they’d be the first to tell you that they owe it all to John.
One of the saddest things about John’s passing is how sudden it was. While he obviously knew about it since before then, he didn’t go public until the end of July with a statement saying he was ill. For those that knew, when Mastodon cancelled their tour just days before it was due to start, it didn’t take much guesswork to realize the reason why. And that’s compounded by the fact that he still had so much more potential. He remains invaluable to Mastodon, and given that Gojira garnered a pair of Grammy nominations for 2016’s Magma, there’s no telling where his wisdom might have taken them. There are countless others bands that might have flourished from his guidance as well, and sadly that won’t happen now.
His co-worker and friend, Ghost manager Kristen Mulderig, suggested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Pancreatic Cancer Foundation, and if you want to remember Nick, that’s a great way to honor his legacy. Godspeed, Nick. Donate here: https://www.pancan.org/