Last October, L.A.-based singer/songwriter lilspirit put out a self-produced single called “Ugly,” a stark R&B-pop song speaking the unapologetic truth about a toxic relationship. In a drastic departure from the emo-rap-leaning tracks he’d previously released, “Ugly” showed off lilspirit’s soulful vocals and sophisticated sense of melody (a gift partly honed through his classical training in piano). As his following grew exponentially, the 19-year-old artist soon caught the attention of Internet Money Records/TenThousand Projects, who signed lilspirit to a record deal just a month after “Ugly” premiered.

Born Geno Gitas, lilspirit grew up in the Bay Area and started playing piano as a little kid, later taking up guitar and drums. At the age of 14, he began producing his own music with the help of GarageBand and beats lifted from YouTube, mining inspiration from the underground rappers he’d discovered on SoundCloud. Soon after dropping out of high school his sophomore year, lilspirit headed down to L.A. to live with his sister—a dark-pop singer/songwriter who makes music under the name Ellise. Along with producing a number of songs for Ellise, lilspirit continued working on his own material, increasingly tapping into his incredibl etalent for crafting melodies. “I think my brain just naturally works for melodies, which probably has to do with having so many different kinds of music to pull from,” he says. “I listen to a lot of hip-hop but I also played classical music for years, and then played jazz music on guitar. It’s like I have this big bank of music in my head and I’m just drawing from it all the time.”

As he sharpened his sound and embraced his pop instincts, lilspirit pushed himself to expand his range as a singer, introducing an element of raw vulnerability perfectly suited to his songwriting. One of his most emotionally complex songs yet, “Come Home” brings his quietly powerful vocals to an acoustic-guitar-driven portrait of obsession and destruction. “That song is about two different people at the same time: one is a person who’s dealing with drug addiction, and the other is someone ina bad relationship,” says lilspirit. “It’s based on things I’ve personally gone through or seen other people in my life struggle with, and any line of the song could be about either one of those experiences.

A highly prolific writer and musician who spends nearly every day in the studio—and recorded more than 80 songs in the past two months alone—lilspirit hopes that outpouring might leave a positive impact on his audience. “It touches my heart when fans reach out and tell me that a song I wrote helped them get through a hard time in their lives,” he says. “But at the same time, I’m not really thinking about all that when I’m writing. I’m just making music because I love to make music, so making any kind of song feels like therapy for me.”

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