PJ Harvey Covers Leonard Cohen’s “Who By Fire” for Apple TV Series ‘Bad Sisters’

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

PJ Harvey shared her cover of Leonard Cohen’s 1974 song “Who by Fire,” recorded for the new Apple TV+ dark comedy Bad Sisters.

Recorded with composer Tim Phillips, Harvey offers a more orchestrated rendition of Cohen’s acoustic-driven classic, leaving her own vocal inflictions on the springing lyrics—And who by fire, who by water / Who in the sunshine, who in the night time / Who by high ordeal, who by common trial / Who in your merry merry month of May.

The track is featured on the soundtrack for Bad Sisters, a thriller centered around the Garvey sisters, who are coping with the sudden death of a family member while under investigation by a life insurance company, the series stars Anne-Marie Duff, Eva Birthistle, Sarah Greene, and Eve Hewson. The first two episodes of Bad Sisters are currently streaming on Apple TV+ with an episode airing each Friday through October 14. 

Executive producer and Bad Sisters star Sarah Horgan personally sought out Harvey to record “Who By Fire” for the series.

“I thought of the words of ‘Who by Fire’ soon after the series was picked up and thought how perfect it would be,” said Horgan in a statement. “Pretty soon after that, I thought of Polly’s [Polly Jean Harvey] voice singing those words and asked Apple if we could make that happen. I had been a fan of Polly for years and was nervous when we zoomed with her. I don’t have a musical vocabulary, but I know what I wanted.”

Horgan added, “We told her our ideas and about the series. It was quite fledgling at that stage, just photos and words, nothing filmed to show her, but she got it and loved it. We paired her up with Tim Phillips who had scored ‘Shining Vale,’ so we knew he was genius at what he does. The tone of the whole series is affected by the music and Polly’s voice. I still can’t quite believe we pulled it off.” 

Originally released on Cohen’s fourth album, New Skin for the Old Ceremony, “Who by Fire” was recorded as a duet with Janis Ian and covered Cohen’s Jewish roots, and his version of the Hebrew prayer “Unetanneh Tokef,” chanted during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

“When Sharon Horgan approached me to be involved I said yes immediately as I have followed her work and loved it for years,” shared Harvey on Instagram. “It is a thrill to now be working with her.“It was a very enjoyable day spent recording the version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Who by Fire’ for ‘Bad Sisters. I had spoken to Sharon Horgan in advance of the recording session, so I understood why she felt the song’s lyric was so perfect for the series, but also understood what nuances of Leonard’s performance she most loved, and therefore what to try and recapture but in my own way.”

Harvey added, “Tim Phillips and I worked together on my performance for the song. I found Tim to be an inspiring and exciting work partner which made the whole experience flow.”

Earlier in 2022, Harvey released “Orlam,” a coming-of-age narrative poem written in Dorset dialect, along with the most recent reissue within her catalog of 2016 album The Hope Six Demolition Project, and The Hope Six Demolition Project – Demos.

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