John Mellencamp is pleased with the effect smoking has had on his voice, as heard on the upcoming album Strictly a One-Eyed Jack.

He picked out the song “Gone So Soon” from the LP, which is due on Friday, as the best example of how cigarettes have changed his natural sound over the years.

“We were laughing,” Mellencamp tells Forbes. “When we were making this record, it was like, ‘John, your voice has changed so much since you started.’ And I said, ‘Well, the cigarettes are starting to pay off.’ And I was happy when I heard me sing ‘Gone So Soon,’ that I sounded like Louis Armstrong.”

Mellencamp said that “it wasn't anything I tried to do. It's just that cigarettes take their fucking toll on your vocal cords. … You can tell by just talking to me that my voice is raspy, and that's all from smoking. Nothing that I wanted to do. It never dawned on me that it would happen, but I’m happy that I sound that way.”

Reflecting on his career, Mellencamp said: “How do you get good at something? You just keep doing it. And most people quit too early, that's what I've found. … Courage is knowing you're beat before you even start, but you start anyway, and you see it to the end, no matter what the result. And … that's what we did on this record. That's just the way it worked out. I learned 10, 15 years ago, you can't control art. True art is when you let the art go where it wants to go.”

Mellencamp agreed with the suggestion that Strictly a One-Eyed Jack was “not an easy record,” but the pay off was that it felt “honest and authentic.” Ultimately, Mellencamp admits: “I'm not for everyone anymore.”

He said he recently ran into a stranger who said, “You know, music is just not the same. … And there's not any good songwriters anymore.’” When Mellencamp asked if the man had heard his last album, or Bruce Springsteen’s, Bob Dylan’s or Woodie Guthrie’s, the answer was “no.” Mellencamp told him: “Maybe there's still music out there. You're just not listening. … You grew up. Too bad for you.”

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