Lykke Li Premieres Cover of Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’

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When Lykke Li went into the studio to record her haunting, ethereal version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” she didn’t have a fixed agenda in place. “To be honest, the only version I’ve ever heard in my whole life is the Johnny Cash version, so I had no real history,” she says of the cover, premiering exclusively on Variety. “I just went into it pretty blank. I sat down at the piano and the first thing that came out of my mouth was what I recorded.”

The Swedish singer-songwriter laid down her “Ring of Fire” cover for the upcoming Netflix film “Damsel,” releasing to the streamer on March 8 and featuring the song during the end credits. Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, “Damsel” follows an impoverished young woman named Ellie (played by Millie Bobby Brown) who marries into a royal family—the perfect fairytale ending—only to realize it was in fact a sinister new beginning, where she’s being offered as a blood sacrifice to an ancient dragon.

Li was initially approached to cover “Ring of Fire” after the birth of her second child in August last year. “I was in the baby phase, I wasn’t really doing anything,” she recalls. She went into the studio with producer Andrew Sarlo (Big Thief, Bon Iver) and recorded the song in one take, an approach she settled into while working on her fifth album “Eyeye” that released in May 2022. “You can feel that energy on the recording, so it’s a very important process for me to keep it live and keep the tension,” she explains. Alongside Sarlo, she layered in synthesizers and textured harmonies for the drifting track, which ebbs and flows into a hazy finish.

“Ring of Fire” has been extensively covered since its release in 1963 and is largely considered one of the greatest country songs of all time, yet even Li was surprised by its origins. Written by June Carter Cash and Merle Kilgore, “Ring of Fire” was initially released by June’s sister Anita Carter before Johnny Cash rerecorded it for his album “Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash.” 

“I was very inspired by June Carter,” she says “What I read was that she wrote this when they were both married to other people and she was like, shit, I’m about to fall in love and it’s going to blow up and ruin my life. But also there’s no other way. So there’s this haunting quality that it is to fall in love. It really is like stepping into a ring of fire. And then I think the beauty of the song, what I realized too when you break it down, is that Johnny Cash’s version has tempo and all of those other things. It’s him. It could even be a lullaby. But that goes for every great song. It’s a classic. Timeless.”

With the arrival of “Eyeye” a few years back, Li has largely spent her time with her new baby, describing her second experience of motherhood as “pretty intense and magical and difficult and all of the things.” But, she says, she’s already at work on her next project. “The way I work is I do take a fair amount of time off to experience life,” says Li. So definitely this last experience, I’m pregnant now with ideas. I’m very inspired to go back into the studio. It’s like the circle of life over and over again. Sometimes it’s a baby, sometimes it’s an album.”

Li’s cover of “Ring of Fire” will be available on March 1, and can be streamed here.

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