Chris Sunfield: York professor turned recording artist

A 1984 publicity photo of Chris Sunfield (right) with Colin Halyk (left). (Photographed by Nigel Turner)

Chris Sunfield is a recording artist whose debut single “The Little Things” on Radar Love Records is available now on all major streaming platforms. According to Sunfield’s website, future releases are in production that will explore “more progressive territory” in his genre-bridging, label-defying style.

Sunfield put off his music career for over 30 years, previously working as a psychologist, consultant, and professor at York.

Former human resources student Becky Romanovsky remembers Sunfield’s “charisma, creativity, and abundance of knowledge as a professor,” adding that she is “eagerly anticipating his future music releases.”

Sunfield spoke with me to discuss his midlife choice to follow his passion of a career in music.

You went to York for your Bachelor of Arts (BA), Master of Arts (MA), and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), and then returned here to teach. What can you tell us about your time at York and your relationship to the university?

I started at York in the music program when I was 18. I had little formal training, and I couldn’t read music. It was a difficult year — total imposter syndrome. I switched majors, ended up getting a BA, MA, and PhD in psychology, and became a management consultant. Years later I returned to York to teach human resources management and business part-time. The best years of my life happened at York. The umbilical cord will probably never be severed.

How was music involved in your life before you started pursuing it as a career?

I played in bands and continued writing music, but never really finished it. Boxes and hard drives of musical ideas just sat there — all the while, I grew older and became more and more of a corporate “suit.” I began to doubt if I still had talent — or ever had it at all. If I was hit by a truck and dying in the street, my final thoughts would have been around all this music I never finished. A wasted legacy.

You attribute your change in careers to a midlife crisis. What can you tell us about your journey of reinventing yourself as Chris Sunfield?

In the span of about two years I bought a house in the suburbs and inadvertently isolated myself from everyone. After that, a childhood friend passed away, my long-time mentor died, I got involved in a terrible relationship, and finally had an accident that hospitalized me — perfect storm. While still on crutches, I yanked out all my music gear. I wrote and recorded my first complete song in many years. I found out that I could still do it. I sold the house, moved back to the central Greater Toronto Area (GTA), and converted over 600 tape recordings to mp3’s to start working on unfinished songs.

How does your previous life experience inform and involve itself in this new chapter of your life?

All art is autobiographical, consciously or unconsciously. You’re projecting your issues onto unmoulded clay. When I returned to music, I started renting cheap motel rooms in my hometown to finish old songs. I lived on ramen and canned beans. Make no mistake — your past and where you came from are gifts, no matter how painful they were. I stood outside my birth home in subsidized housing. I stood outside the childhood home of my friend who’d passed away. I wrote lyrics in parks where I played as a kid.

You describe your music as progressive, symphonic, and epic pop that often shows classical and ambient stylings. Can you tell us more about this style and how your music compares to mainstream music?

I listened to classical, jazz, and AM radio pop music as a kid. The first album I bought with my own money was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6. My first single, “The Little Things,” is wonky space pop, but that’s just the beginning. I’m into “pop symphonies” over six and seven minutes, with movements. Walls of sound. Multi-layered.

Can you tell us a bit about your composing process as a musician?

Organic. It can start with a melody in your head while you’re bagging groceries. Filling it out and arranging it can be days and weeks of agony. But I now have a storehouse of hundreds of unfinished ideas. Now that I’m creating again, I’m also having dream songs. One came to me at 4 a.m. in my sleep during a two-day migraine. I dragged myself to the keyboard in the dark and fought off nausea to get it down.

What does the future hold for Chris Sunfield?

Last year, I took some demos to Michael Hanson, ex-drummer for Glass Tiger and Juno Award winning producer. He listened and said, “I want to produce you.” I signed to Radar Love Records. The first single and video, “The Little Things,” came out October 9, 2020. I’m in the middle of recording seven other songs. There’ll be other singles and EP’s next year. For now, I’m living a double life as a consultant and recording artist — I’m becoming the “real me” that I suppressed for years, and that’s important.

What advice can you give to emerging artists, creators, and musicians at York? 

First of all, you’re a creator no matter what your major is. Be authentic and chase your goals — NOW. You have no idea how quickly time goes by. It doesn’t matter if your path changes as long as you fix on self-chosen goals and strive every day. You can work a “day job” at the same time, and yes, it’s tough. Work on that song or business venture after work instead of vegging in front of Netflix. All I can say is that I waited way too long to avoid deathbed regrets. Do the arts pay? They might not. But in the end, it’s the meaning you make from your art. Your sense of self and identity may demand it regardless of what you do to pay the bills.


You can follow Sunfield on social media and check out his first single The Little Things at www.chrissunfield.com.

About the Author

By Céleste A. LaCroix

Arts Editor

arts@excal.on.ca

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