Gabriel Roderick was just like any other kid. He was an athlete, loved being outdoors and had a deep interest in music. He also played piano since he was a child with aspirations of becoming a professional musician.
At age sixteen, Gabriel suffered an injury that changed his life forever. The accident has confined Gabriel to a wheelchair. He is unable to stand, or play the instrument that was so dear to him.
Ten years later, Gabriel decided to work with his new limitations. He grabbed a pencil, went over to the piano he grew up playing and began punching the piano keys one at a time while singing dark melodies of anguish.
This inspired Gabriel to continue on with his dreams as a musician, writing and recording songs and even touring across the country with his roommate Jack.
Releasing music under his moniker, Freaque, Gabriel will be performing songs from his new album Decompose live at his album release party Saturday, July 20th at the Cedar Cultural Center.
Other performances include his cousins Lena Elizabeth, Danny Akah and his brother Charles. Tickets and information available, here.
Interview with Gabriel Roderick
Bo: We’re here at the house you grew up in.
Gabriel: Yeah, so my mom rented out the house to me and there are six total people who live here right now. She actually lives a half-block away on 32nd and Park.
Bo: She was your teacher who taught you how to play the piano?
Gabriel: Yeah. Early on, but didn’t last very long because I was probably a nightmare. Just didn’t want to practice.
Bo: So you’ve been playing piano for 10 years and you were well on your way to becoming a pretty great player and then in 2008 you had a C-5 spinal cord injury?
Gabriel: Yeah. So I was on a foreign exchange trip down to Costa Rica. I went with 20 other kids from around the US. I think it was a Saturday.
We went swimming in the ocean and I was body surfing into the shore and then I’d run back out and dive in, and the last time that I dove in, somehow dove too shallow and hyperextended my neck. I don’t know if it was a sandbar or just a complete miscalculation on my part.
I don’t know how many times I’d done that here at the lakes. I woke up, I was conscious underwater, face down, and was really confused and didn’t really know what was happening.
Eventually, my friends who were there saw me and pulled me out and got me onto land and went straight to the San Jose hospital, which was probably about five hours away.
Got my surgery, my parents flew down, I was there for about a week and a half and flew back to Minneapolis.
I was at Fairview for a week and a half and then I was Gillette Children’s over at Regions for about three months doing rehab.
Gabriel: So it’s a very kind of surreal memory. There’s a lot of montages… Lots of fluorescent lights and family… People coming and praying over me and all that.
Nobody in my circle really knew how to handle it. My dad worked at an ER for a long time, so he was fairly prepared for it, but once you get out of the acute stage, there’s a lot to learn and a lot to figure out.
I lost some friends after the injury because they didn’t really know how to deal with it and I had a lot of anger towards them for a long time, but more recently the last few years I’ve just kind of looked back on it and it was just chaos.
Nobody really knew how to handle that situation and I had gained some really good friends after the injury and my parents, my support system, was more than I could ask for.
There’s a lot of people out there who don’t have a similar support system that I have.
Bo: Who are some of the biggest supporters you have helping you out each day?
Gabriel: The biggest one right now is my roommate, Jack. He is my caregiver, he plays music with me, goes on tour with me, we’re good friends, and it’s been really good having him in my corner.
It’s kind of relieved my parents because they’ve been my main caregivers for a long time.
Bo: Has your experience given you a new perspective on life?
Gabriel: Yeah. I think I grew up really fast. I had to deal with something that no 16-year-old should have to deal with and losing friends, living in a world of chaos, like how do you do that?
And I had to grow up real quick to cope with everything and figure out how to move on. And move with it.
Gabriel: Before my injury and even a little after, I grew up in the church. I was a Christian.
And after my accident I got a lot of like, “This is God’s plan,” and “Everything happens for a reason,” and I would say that’s one of the biggest things that made me leave Christianity.
I still consider myself a very spiritual person. I’m by no means an atheist. I’m an agnostic really. I love to ask questions. I don’t like to have any kind of certainties.
So the whole, “Everything happens for a reason, this is God’s plan,” like my immediate thought is like, “What about my plans?”
I had plans to become a professional pianist, professional musician, go to school for piano.
I didn’t really understand how that fits in with God. Because in my eyes God is love. Like that’s pretty much all God is. I think it’s just easier to say, “Everything happens for a reason like that’s just the way it is.”
But I think there’s another side to that. That we do live in a world of nature and chaos and we can’t really explain the things that happen and it’s just… It’s kind of our choice to use what we have and flow with chaos, I guess.
Bo: Through overcoming these challenges and now getting back to the piano and learning what your body’s limits are and still pushing the limits, what is the relationship with music and your body now?
Gabriel: Music is my expression, it always has been. I’m beginning to realize that there is a multitude of ways to do music.
Before my injury, I could sit down at the piano and use 10 fingers in all one song. But just about a year ago, I was sitting in my room, I was bored, it was like 9:00pm, it was dark out and I was like, “I’m going to go downstairs and play the piano.”
I put this brace on, I put a pencil in the brace and just started plucking one note at a time. I built some songs and realized I could sing at the same time and it was a pretty empowering discovery.
When I performed those songs live, it’s this healthy release of anger and when it happens, it’s blissful. It’s so joyful.
Because I’m a very angry person. I have a lot of anger about my injury, the world around us, the corruption and the chaos that happens.
So finding ways to put that anger through my body, playing piano, or singing is super healing for me.
I’ve just started doing a lot more touring and the tour we did in May to April, did two shows where I played for a bunch of people with spinal cord injuries and it was the first time I’ve ever done that.
The audience was people with spinal cord injuries and family members of those people.
I felt like I was actually making an impact like, a couple of those kids are a couple years out of their injury, and I know exactly where they’re at and they’re striving to get their body back.
They’re trying to figure out how to operate in life and I think for them to see this dude who’s 11 years out of his injury on tour, playing music, doing what he loves to do is really good for people to see.
Bo: How did you come up with the band name? Freaque?
Gabriel: It comes from living my life with a spinal cord injury. Living in a chair. You feel like a freak sometimes. You just don’t fit in with the standards of society.
And I think on some level everybody feels that way, not even just people in chairs, but everybody’s got their quirks and their grief and their pain and it’s the thing that kind of makes us unique.
That’s where art comes from, I think. I think that weirdness, that goofiness, that anger, that grief, that pain, all that stuff.
Bo: Do you have any sort of advice for anyone out there? Any sort of message that you’re trying to give out to anybody?
Gabriel: We need to ask questions and we need to dig deep into ourselves and our surroundings because we’re not asking questions, we’re not growing, we’re not building. I think that’s what we really need to be doing.