Remember Lemon Tree in 1995? Interview with Fools Garden’s Peter Freudenthaler

Lemon Tree, video by Fools Garden

Lemon Tree – videoclip by Fool’s Garden, 1995

Once upon a time, you would live, love and breathe rock ‘n’ roll all day in all places and you would do all sorts of things in the name of it. You’d form high-school bands, you’d do gigs at the local pub, you’d send out demos and waited to break up with your college sweetheart to finally write your guitar solo masterpiece.

The posters in your room were a perpetual reminder that you would never be as good as Nirvana, Guns N’ Roses, The Rolling Stones, The Cranberries, R.E.M and counting – and you wouldn’t scratch them off because they just gave you the motivation boost you needed: if such seemingly unattainable, incredible and gigantic heights of talent were humanly possible then they could also be outstripped one day, and you wanted to be there and be part of that when it happened.

Lemon Tree by Fools Garden

Lemon Tree by Fool’s Garden

And so you would work odd jobs to support your dream and you wouldn’t complain and cry and say that you were bullied at school and that you came from whatever marginalised community and that no one has the right to define you and that dogs are much more trustworthy than humans.
You’d stood up for yourself and went your way and made things happen as men have always done since the dawn of time until the times became these.

Once upon a time, to call yourself a musician you actually had to make music – music so unquestionably phenomenal to break into album charts dominated by Michael Jackson, Alanis Morissette, Mariah Carey, Madonna, Celine Dion, Blur, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Green Day, Bon Jovi, David Bowie, U2, George Michael, Queen, Prince, Pink Floyd and the likes; the 1990s was the golden era for the best rock of all time, the quality of the music and lyrics was staggering, special effects on live shows were spectacular, kids were fed the greatest music videos by MTV which was free-to-air at the time, and concert promoters would never print on show tickets that under 16s had to be accompanied by an adult.

Oasis’ second studio album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? was selling at a rate of two per minute in central London the day after its release in 1995, making it the second-fastest-selling album in British history at the time behind Michael Jackson’s Bad and totalling 345,000 copies sold; this was the sort of things and figures excellent rock music got people used to back then.

Lemon Tree by Fools Garden CD cover

Lemon Tree by Fool’s Garden

To break into the music charts in the 1990s you needed to be outstanding, not just good, and you wouldn’t have had many opportunities to shine if you were just a little band from an obscure town in Southwest Germany, English was not your first language, you had barely ever played outside your country and then you’d suddenly come up with a weird song which began with a broken glass crash and was named after a plant; Pforzheim-based rock band Fools Garden, known as Fool’s Garden at the time, really accomplished a miracle with their global smash hit Lemon Tree.

The tune that made Fools Garden world-famous was released as a single in November 1995 in Germany and became an international hit the following year; it reached number one in 6 European countries, made the top ten in another 11 countries including France and Canada, entered the UK singles charts at number 26 and the US Billboard chart at number 13; the single was re-released in the UK and the US in 1996 and 1997 and got five Platinum awards.

Peter Freudenthaler of Fools Garden by Tine Acke ©

Peter Freudenthaler today by Tine Acke ©

The ballad was composed by Fools Garden’s co-founder Peter Freudenthaler in twenty minutes on a Sunday afternoon in 1995; Peter was home, waiting for his girlfriend to come, but she was late. He didn’t have much to do, so he thought he would reach out to the piano and compose something on the spot while he waited. Had Peter had a clingy girlfriend instead or had Instagram notifications existed at that time, Fools Garden’s signature song would not have been written.

Some three decades have passed since that Sunday afternoon, Lemon Tree has sold 6 million copies and generated over 340m global streams to date, Fools Garden are still making music and touring internationally, and Peter Freudenthaler keeps answering question after question about how this magical song came to life and why it means so much to so many people in the world.

 

Peter, how do you feel when you hear Lemon Tree playing on the radio?

Fools Garden by Tine Acke ©

Fools Garden by Tine Acke ©

We really all feel very pleased to have done this song. It makes me happy that the song is still played on air after such a long time. It is really a global song that is played in the world and has touched so many people, and maybe that’s because when we wrote it we did not think too much about what people would think of it or whether they criticised the lyrics. It also did not fit in any way to the other kinds of songs that we were writing at that time; I would say that we are kind of a pop-rock band, and a lot people said that Lemon Tree was a children’s song! Even our band members, when they heard it for the first time they looked at each other and said “What is it? Shall we play this song?!”

Do you receive fan mail about Lemon Tree?

As you told me earlier, you were like 11 years old the first time you heard Lemon Tree and you immediately became a fan, and there are children today that listen to the song for the first time and fall in love with it even though they weren’t even born at the time it was released! This is really great. And I should show you my mobile phone for you to see how many messages I get nearly every day from everywhere in the world saying that somebody was playing Lemon Tree in the street or that it is being played in some hotels or the elevator, or wherever else. I recently received a video from the daughter of one of my best friends that she made in Oman; she was sharing a taxi with people from India, Pakistan and Oman when the radio played Lemon Tree and they all sang along. This was such a wonderful moment for me, but not because it’s about Lemon Tree, because it shows that music is the one language everybody understands and it shows us that we are all human beings with the same souls, even in times like the ones we have at the moment when the world seems not in a solid state.

What did you break to make the glass smashing sound at the beginning of Lemon Tree?

Honestly, we didn’t break anything! The sound was a sample from an expander we had. You know these little boxes that have many sounds in them? One of them was the broken glass sound. The idea was about a boy whose girlfriend had left him, and so he is in a corner all bored, and he doesn’t know what to do so he takes a glass and proceeds against the wall. That was the story behind it.

You wrote the song while you were waiting for your girlfriend to come to your place and she was late. How did she react the first time she heard Lemon Tree?

I had a two-bedroom flat at the time, and the piano was standing in my bedroom. My girlfriend was a bit late, so I thought I had the time to improvise on the piano. Then suddenly the melody came over, and my girlfriend arrived and I played the song to her, and she said “Wow!” But at that time nobody knew about Fools Garden, we were just a little band close to a little town in the southern part of Germany. And nobody would really have thought that Lemon Tree would become such a big hit. But yes, my girlfriend was the first person who listened to the song and she seemed to have a good feeling about it.

Where did the song title come from?

I can’t tell you where it came from. I was not that sad, I was not that bored, it was just kind of Heaven’s kiss, it was a God’s kiss: the goddess of music had kissed me somehow. It was a process that only took about twenty or twenty-five minutes; maybe it was because I was very, very open at the time, but I can’t tell you where it came from. There were already some parts of the lyrics combined with a melody and I liked it, and I didn’t think too much about what people would think of the song, but I remember when the term Lemon Tree came into my head the first thing I thought was: “A lemon tree?! What does that mean?!” I had no idea, but it sounded brilliant. And so I would leave the lemon tree in the song, and somewhat it was a good decision to make.

Why did you write the lyrics in English?

Well, it’s funny; I am German, I am not an English native speaker but I have always listened to English music. When I was 12 or 13 years old, I fell in love with the English language and the sound of it, and it was never a question with Fools Garden to sing in German because we all liked Britpop music and The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and nowadays bands like Coldplay and Travis. It’s similar to the wonderfully-sounding operas which, in my opinion, sound their best when they are performed in Italian; it’s just wonderful.

Had you had a smartphone on the day you wrote Lemon Tree, would you still have written it? Or would have the smartphone prevented you from feeling bored and start playing?

This is a really good question. Maybe I would have done something totally different. Maybe I would have looked for some Instagram notes, or whatever. But I’m happy that I had no smartphone at that time and that I just killed my boredom on the piano.

What role does boredom play in the creative process?

I wouldn’t really call it boredom, but I think to make good things you need just time. Sometimes I think about my childhood when I really felt bored, when TV programmes used to start only at five o’clock in the evening and there was no entertainment around the clock 24/7. There was a lot of time in my childhood when I didn’t know what to do, but I think this is very, very important. And somehow sometimes I’m longing for moments like these. Nowadays, we always have something to do and, if we don’t do anything, we just have a mobile phone and we look for posts, and everybody can reach you at any time. If I may tell you something personal, when I was 17, I took a trip around Europe with two friends through Interrail, which was a rail pass that allowed us to travel around Europe and also in Morocco for four weeks – I think it cost 270 German Marks [about 130 Euros]. And we did that in a time [1980] when there were no mobile phones. I remember that, at some point, I went to a post office in Spain to call my parents and tell them that I was okay. And somehow I really can’t understand how my parents let their 17-year-old boy travel for weeks without the possibility of reaching him; I mean, I have three children of my own and one of them went backpacking in South America, but we still were in contact with him, and I would really be scared if I could not reach him or know what he was doing at the moment. But these times have totally changed, and being able to relax and not feeling this pressure is very important for the creative process. I mean, I just need time, time to feel myself and not to be in a stress mode and to just have time.

In 1997, Lemon Tree was played in a popular TV commercial for Limoncello in Italy. Did you know that?

We didn’t know at first, but an Italian friend of ours told us and it was not okay that we did not know about it, so our publisher made contact with the company because they were also not pleased about not knowing it.

Why there isn’t any lemon tree in the video clip, and not even on the CD cover? The American single cover has some lemons on it, but the European hasn’t. How come?

Lemon Tree by Fools Garden, American cover

Lemon Tree by Fool’s Garden, American cover

Oh, we thought this would be too much and it wouldn’t give fans the possibility to ask questions like the ones you are asking at the moment. I mean, I am not a fan of a song called Lemon Tree if they have to make the cover full of lemons. A lot of people would put lemons before the song at the time and ask us when we made photo sessions: “Can you please take a lemon in your hand?”And so we just had a feeling that the artwork that we chose for the single and the album was okay, we did like it very much and it must not be combined with a lemon. It’s just a nice artwork, and some of the other artworks when I look back at them, I don’t think they would have fitted within the song at all.

The band name had originally been Fool’s Garden since 1991 until you changed it to Fools Garden in 2003. Why did you remove the apostrophe?

We broke up with the former band members in 2003 and, at the same time, the Internet was growing more and more, and we realised that so many search engines had problems with the apostrophe. So we were like, okay, a lot of people before did not know how to write Fool’s Garden anyway and they would misspell it all the time, so we just gave up the apostrophe altogether.

What legacy have Fools Garden left to the world?

Fools Garden by Valter Pelns ©

Fools Garden by Valter Pelns ©

If at least our music means something to some people, even if there is just only one person in the world who feels like his or her life was somewhat accompanied by our music at the right moment and our music did something special or something good for their life, well, then this would be wonderful. But I can’t tell you what will be like in 50 or 100 years; I could imagine that Lemon Tree would still be played even if we do not exist any more, someday. You know, when my son went to Machu Picchu in Peru, he called me from a bar in Cusco to let me hear that Lemon Tree was playing on the radio! Well, if I can somehow touch my relatives or friends or other people with this song even if I’m not here any more, if the song gives them something for their hearts or their souls, then this would be a very great gift for me, too.

Which one of your songs are you most attached to?

I love them all. We have written more than 150 songs by now, and the one that touches me the most at the moment is the one we are working on right now. If I look back at all the other songs – even the songs that I wrote with other bands before Fools Garden, after more than thirty years they are like diary chapters of my life for me. They also bring me back to when I listened to them for the first time, it’s a bit like a smell or a taste which dredges up a long-lost memory. The same applies to music.

What’s the best song ever made in the history of music, in your opinion?

This is an unanswerable question. I can’t tell you and it also depends on my mood. Had you asked me when I was 13 years old, I would have said that Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin was the best song ever written. But there are so many other wonderful songs and it all depends on life moments. Also, the album Everyday Life by Coldplay was not as popular as so many other albums of theirs, but the songs in it really touched me very, very deeply.

What do you think of the current state of music and all this rap?

I’m confronted with rap music because my son loves rap music very much. It depends on my mood but I’m not such a big fan of rap music or its musical elements, but we have a lot of rappers in Germany that are true lyricists, and they are very ethical and very clever, and I sometimes hear them and think “Wow!”

Is there any difference in music between today and when you first started out with Fool’s Garden in the 1990s?

Times have really changed not only with regard to the music industry. CDs have just disappeared, and I remember the times when music CDs were released in the second half of the 1980s and everybody wanted to have a CD player – I remember when I bought my first one I was like “Wow!” as I could finally skip songs! A couple of years ago I bought a record player again and now I’m buying records again and I listen to them and I have to listen to every song as I cannot skip them! This is one of the saddest things that so many musicians work on an album and really put a lot of time, effort and love into the music, and there are certain songs that you need to hear three, four or five times until you realise their energy and you can fall in love with the music; but if you only hear them for 10 seconds and then skip to the next song you will never discover these diamonds in music. And then you know, cassette tapes are being made again right now, which is funny. I mean, cassettes also have a special ambience if you listen to them as the noise in the background can be like “Mwah”. But I am not so nostalgic; well, there are moments in my life when I get nostalgic when I think that both my parents died as sometimes I dream about them and then I wake up in the morning and think “Oh my God, it’s all over”, but I’m not sad. It’s just nostalgic moments. When it comes to the band, we are always looking into the future to create a better presence that we can look back at from the future into our past and say that this was a good day. And we shouldn’t think too much about the past; right now we are doing a lot of electronic elements, we are quite open-minded about everything that is new and we try to experiment with different instruments and different styles.

What achievement in your career are you most proud of?

Volker Hinkel and Peter Freudenthaler of Fools Garden by Tine Acke ©

Volker Hinkel and Peter Freudenthaler of Fools Garden by Tine Acke ©

Oh, there are so many. We are celebrating our 33rd anniversary in August 2024, and we will host some 30 artists who will come and play with us and celebrate. But I can’t tell you what the most wonderful moment in my career was – I think the fact that Volker [Hinkel, the other band founding member] and I are still buddies and are still working together on the songwriting process after more than 30 years since studying Multimedia Technology at the University of Stuttgart – well, I think this is a wonderful gift. Also, in 1993, before we became famous with Lemon Tree, we took part in a twin-town exchange between Italy and Germany; our hometown in Germany is called Pforzheim, and the sister city in Italy is Vicenza, so we were sent by our mayor to Vicenza to play a concert there. Can you imagine an unknown German band getting invited to an Italian city to play a concert there? This was our first international gig and such a great moment for us. And then there are so many other things; when our 1995 song, Wild Days, was played on the radio for the first time, and also the first time we flew to another city thanks to our music; our first Gold record award, the first appearance on TV in Southeast Asia; there were so many milestones. In 2022, we took part in a summer festival [Arena Suzuki ’60 ’70 ’80 ’90] at the Verona Arena in Italy, and this was unbelievable; have you ever been there? I get goosebumps if I even think about it… wow, if you just come out there on stage and you see the people and the place, it’s really unbelievable.

Your performance in Verona was great. And you were one of the very few international artists to say Buonasera instead of Good evening.

Thank you so much! And yeah, buonasera Verona! Come stai?

What are your plans for the future?

We have some requests to play in Mexico this spring, then we have an invitation to China to perform three concerts in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou in November. And then again, there’s the festival for our 33rd anniversary in August, I’m very much involved in the preparation of the festival as we have so many other artists participating. Besides that, we are working on new material, we have written some songs and I actually should sit down and write some lyrics at some point!

Fools Garden by Valter Pelns ©

Fools Garden by Valter Pelns ©

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