The 25 Most Important People in Metal: #18, Steve Joh
As much as metal is a genre of music and a lifestyle, it is also a community. And like all communities, it has its leaders — men and women whose work, be it by design or circumstance, affects all lovers of extreme music on a regular basis.
Throughout November, MetalSucks will celebrate these industry leaders by counting down The 25 Most Important People in Metal one per day. To be clear, this is a list of the people we believe are most important to metal today, in 2016 — not necessarily the most important people overall in the entire history of the genre. Some of them are musicians. Many of them are not. Some of them are people you’ve heard of. Many of them work behind the scenes and do not routinely get to take a bow. But they all have one thing in common: more than just cogs in a machine, they are truly, undeniably irreplaceable.
Most of you reading this have probably never heard of Steve Joh, despite the fact that you almost surely own at least one album he helped put out into the world. Steve has had a variety of jobs in the metalsphere — he wrote a ‘zine and was the tour manager for God Forbid and Shadows Fall when those bands were first starting to get attention, amongst other things — but it’s his work in A&R that’s most noteworthy. During his lengthy tenure at Century Media, Steve signed and/or did A&R for Arch Enemy, Nevermore, Lacuna Coil, Strapping Young Lad and Devin Townsend, Suicide Silence, Eyehategod, Winds of Plague, Iwrestledabearonce, Intronaut, Nachtmystium, Warbringer, Terror, Despised Icon, 3 Inches of Blood, and Dååth. And that’s not even getting into the bands he’s signed since joining Prosthetic Records a couple of years back, or the musicians he has unofficially managed (“I’m just helping them out,” as Steve would say).
You may love the artists named in the above paragraph, or you may hate them — but you can’t deny that they’ve all been major players in modern metal. Steve Joh has played a substantial role in shaping the genre of music we love as we currently know it. (He is also probably very mad at me for typing that sentence, because he’s incredibly humble. More on that in a second.)
How has Steve managed to be so successful for so long? His love of metal is earnest and immediately evident upon speaking with him. He truly keeps his finger on the pulse of the scene — try to tip him off to a great young band that’s just starting out in Bumfuck, and there’s a good chance he’s already heard of and been in contact with them. He doesn’t live in New York or Los Angeles, where most of the industry is congregated; we can assume that this has helped him shrug off the blinders the business naturally creates. And, incidentally, he’s arguably the nicest person in all of metal.
No joke: it seems like everyone has a story about how Steve Joh helped them out, often when there was nothing in it for him. “Our van broke down while we were on tour with one of Steve’s bands, and he helped us out.” “The label instructed him to drop us/not sign us at all, but Steve never stopped returning our calls and helping us out regardless.” “Steve Joh delivered a baby on the side of the highway and still got us to the gig on time.” (Okay I made that last one up… but I’d believe it if you told me it happened.)
And Steve doesn’t take bows — like I said, most people reading this probably have no idea who he is! He personifies the sincerity and down-to-earthness that metal so highly values and flies in the face of every negative stereotype about people in the music business. He may not do any of it to get a pat on the back — but he sure as hell deserves one.
Read Sergeant D.’s 2010 interview with Steve here.