Carmouflage Rose

Every layer you peel back gives way to another. This 25-year-old Brisbane artist with a unique genre blending sound is making a name for himself as Carmouflage Rose, but his friends just call him Larry—as in happy as Larry. Peel off that layer and you hit another. “My real name is Graham John Herrington. I’ve got the whitest name for a black dude,” he laughs.

Herrington was born in Zimbabwe and grew up there before coming to Australia in his late teens as a refugee. Local, displaced, and then home again. Layer after layer. So where is the core of this shapeshifting, emerging artist? For that, you go to the music.

With well over two million plays on Spotify, Carmouflage Rose has a sound that’s unlike anything else in Australian hip hop. Larry’s story so far can be heard in his music – his is an eclectic sound which incorporates his African roots, mixed with hip-hop, electronica and dancehall.

“I grew up listening to Jamaican music,” says Herrington, citing icons like Bob and Damien Marley, Buju Banton—a regular on DJ Khaled’s Instagram—and Capleton. In his late teens, American artists like A$AP Rocky, The Weeknd, and Travis Scott took a hold on him, but the challenge was always authenticity. “No matter how hard I tried to put on a vibe to rap, it has that dancehall vibe. My roots always come out in my music someway, somehow.”

With sultry hit ‘Late Nights’, Carmouflage Rose has finally arrived. This richly textured track is sensual and striking, with obvious nods to dancehall music. ‘Forget everything but this’ the subtext seems to whisper, enveloping you in an atmospheric fog of dark, tropical vibes that you’d be helpless to fight. ‘Late Nights’ has gone viral on Spotify and landed on prestigious playlists like A1 Hip Hop, R&B Connect, and Indie Arrivals, and the music video is pure visual candy. Not surprising for a guy who studied cinematography and film at SAE.

But, very surprising for someone who never thought they’d be a musician. “I never really was trying to make music in the beginning, I was trying to play soccer actually,” he says. “My friends back in high school used to make music and I would just go and hang out with them, and I was that guy sitting in the corner critiquing. Then one day one of my friends was like, ‘Okay, why don’t you write a verse, let’s see if you know what’s going on’, and I wrote my first verse, and ever since then I’ve been doing it. When I came to Australia, I was like 17 or 18, and I didn’t have many friends, so I just kept on writing music and I just got better at it.”

He was quickly embraced by the Brisbane music scene, and initially got on stage as a guest rapper in other people’s shows. “A friend was performing at clubs and he would do a cover of ‘Gold Digger’ and he would want me to come and sing the Kanye West section—but not do the Kanye verse, I’d do my own twist.” It caught the attention of producer James Angus, and for the last five years the two have been making music as a team.

Creatively, they’re both more doers than dreamers. “It’s hard for me to pre-write something before we get in the studio, because how we’re feeling, the energy we’ve got, what we are wearing, if the sun is shining in the studio, and whatever James’ attitude is, that all plays along in the music. James starts throwing the beat, and then we gel on ideas. The pressure is also good because he’s putting in his hard work, he’s got a great instrumental, and he’s looking at me like, ‘Yeah you better bring it,’” Herrington says.

Hard work pays. Carmouflage Rose recently supported the ‘godfather of grime’ Wiley at his Sydney show, and toured nationally with Alison Wonderland and A$AP Ferg on the Wonderland Scarehouse Project. “You know the best part about all that? We were used to doing shows to 30 or 40 people, and I played in empty venues for like four years, with nobody there—just a couple of friends and my mum or my sister there out of sympathy,” he laughs. But Wonderland and A$AP Ferg draw serious crowds, and Herrington took full advantage, jumping headfirst offstage into their arms as the strobe lights set in, levitating on people’s palms as he delivered his epic track ‘Flame$’.

Carmouflage Rose may be loaded with irresistible swagger, but off the mic Herrington is more about humility than hubris. Another layer falls away, this time revealing a disarmingly candid and thoughtful artist who spends his time outside the studio painting, playing sport, cruising op-shops (old-school Nike tracksuits and Ferrari jackets don’t just fall in your lap), and exploring philosophy—particularly British philosopher Alan Watts, whose criticism of the constant, counter-productive “chatter in our skulls” is more relevant than ever in our age of high anxiety. “I want my music to make people forget, to fly away for a moment, to have fun instead of dwelling on everything. To get out of their heads,” says Herrington.

Expect to temporarily vacate your skull in the near future, because Herrington and James Angus are working on an EP. They’re hinting at more escapism, more good vibes, and more of that sensual beat. Carmouflage Rose is just getting started.