TAMPA — At its height several years ago, a little-known local band vaulted to prominence as a nascent gem. National Public Radio in 2006 cited Candy Bars, a Tampa trio, as evidence of a "renaissance" for indie music. Respected blogs like Pitchfork and Stereogum praised the group's original and often soothing sounds bolstered by a cello and the occasional harpsichord, and unusual lyrics that had a way of staying in the mind.
The publication now known as Creative Loafing named Candy Bars the Tampa Bay area's best band in 2005. In 2007, tbt* included the group among its Ultimate Local Artists.
Band members relished the acclaim, but did almost nothing to capitalize on it. They played infrequently to packed houses and never followed up on a sparkling debut album in 2006. They moved away, went back to school, got married and had children.
Now the anchor of the Tampa Bay area's most famous indie group in recent years is gone. Ryan Fujiki-Hastings, the Candy Bars' drummer who co-wrote many of the group's songs, died Sept. 8 as a result of a motorcycle crash. He was 34. He leaves behind a wife, Tanya, and their 6-month-old daughter, Anaïs.
DJ Scott Imrich of community radio station WMNF-FM 88.5 called the Candy Bars' music "very minimal yet very full-sounding at the same time." The Tampa Bay area lacks the musical footprint of a city like, say, Chicago, Imrich said. Local musicians, however talented, have a hard time breaking through.
Six years after its release, he is still playing the Candy Bars' only album.
"There was a lot of very positive press," Imrich recalled. "Everybody who got their hands on it loved it."
Daniel Martinez played the guitar and keyboards and handled the vocals with a raspy vibrato. He met Mr. Fujiki-Hastings in 2003 when both worked at the Guitar Center.
The two men became friends, then shared a house and began writing songs. "Ryan was probably the best writer I ever met," said Martinez, 30, who now lives in New York. "The lyrics we were writing held more weight than the music, even though we loved both."
A reviewer for Magnet, a music magazine, wrote that the band brought "weird little abstract worlds to life with seemingly nonsensical lyrics that occasionally flash with cogency … it's like listening to a crazy man who might once have been a genius."
Fans describe Mr. Fujiki-Hastings as a fine drummer with a restrained style. "He could have pushed it and been more over-the-top in a jazz sense," Imrich said. "And he didn't. He pulled it way, way back."
Mr. Fujiki-Hastings was born in 1978 in Jacksonville, the son of a Navy officer. The family spent time in Washington, D.C., Japan and Tampa. Mr. Fujiki-Hastings graduated from Jesuit High School and the University of South Florida, where he majored in religious studies.
Studying Eastern philosophy and the Chinese martial arts rubbed off on him. "That was very important to him," said Shawn Hastings, 37, his brother. "He was unflappable in the face of the most difficult situations. He knew how to compose himself, how to let things go."
Mr. Fujiki-Hastings took several courses in Latin over the years. He put it to use after college, spending more than a year as an archivist at the Vatican. He didn't lead conversations with those kinds of details, but if you talked to him long enough you might find out.
"Anybody who met him realized right away that he had this bizarre intelligence," said Martinez. "There was a lot of depth to him. He could pull out references from his own life and books and music quickly and appropriately."
Mr. Fujiki-Hastings and Martinez eventually teamed up with Melissa Grady, who plays cello. They gave themselves a name: Candy Bars.
"Quite honestly, it was just brilliant," said Keith Ulrey, who owns New Granada Records. "There was nothing like it. I think that's why it grabbed so much attention. It wasn't like somebody could listen to it and say, 'Oh, they sound like this band.' They were 100 percent unique."
New Granada cut the Candy Bars album, the oddly titled On Cutting Ti-Gers in Half and Understanding Narravation.
Critics pegged the band as an up-and-comer. The Candy Bars created music that "shimmers like the air over a hot asphalt road," rhapsodized NPR music writer Will Hermes.
With the success of the album, said Ulrey, 40, the band "reached a level of national acclaim a lot of local or indie releases hope for. It was very groundbreaking for the Tampa Bay area."
Even so, Candy Bars performed only occasionally in public, usually at New World Brewery.
"They didn't play out regularly, but when they did, they always seemed to play packed shows," said Beverly Capshaw, 50, a fan of the indie scene. "They would be just few and far between and then would just sort of show up. It seemed like they were just dropping in out of nowhere."
Martinez said the band preferred it that way.
"It seemed prudent to not repeat ourselves too much here," he said.
There was another reason: Mr. Fujiki-Hastings had moved. He had taken a promotion to a Guitar Center store in Jacksonville. Then to another one in Nashua, N.H.
He returned to Hillsborough County, marrying Tanya Fujiki in June 2008.
In recent years, Mr. Fujiki-Hastings worked as a manager at the Aja Channelside nightclub and as a food server at Laughing Cat Bistro in Ybor City. Martinez went to architecture school at the University of Florida. He graduated in May. Mr. Fujiki-Hastings went to Gainesville to celebrate, and asked Martinez to be a godparent to his infant daughter.
At 5:13 p.m. Sept. 8, Tampa police say, Mr. Fujiki-Hastings lost control of a motorcycle he was riding in Ybor City. Friends say he didn't own the motorcycle, but had borrowed it. He later died at Tampa General Hospital.
The shock of his death spread quickly. This week, friends created online memorial sites and a trust fund for his wife and daughter.
Though life was taking them in different directions, the Candy Bars had recorded songs for a second album. "We will be working on it," Martinez said, "to try to piece together whatever we can piece together and finish it, in whatever format that will take."
In the meantime, the friends and family of a talented, modest man are feeling his absence.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.