Nikolai Fraiture has come a long way since he dropped out of college at 19 to travel, Jack Kerouac style, across America. But on The Strokes bassist’s debut album he decided to venture back 11 years and mine those heady days for material.

“It was a very interesting time,” says Fraiture, who plays under the name Nickel Eye when he’s not slapping bass strings with his other band. “It was not what I expected from my young, ideal dreams; I was pretty disillusioned.”

Although the trip was more than a decade ago, Fraiture managed to find old notebooks filled with his writings. “They were in a shoebox,” he says. “I went through them for inspiration and the majority of words came from that.”

While he might have had the lyrical foundation for his tunes, writing music on his own for the first time was an eye-opening experience.

Until penning tracks for his new record, The Time of the Assassins, he’d only concentrate on adding bass to The Strokes’ songs. Now he was forced to look at the big picture.

“This experience really helped me understand what everyone else is doing,” he explains. “Before, I could push my part at the sake of a song. But I’ve learned different things and I see them from a different point of view now.”

Fraiture admits that his new disc is a “challenging listen all around,” but in reality it’s not too far off from what a toned down Strokes album might sound like. His voice is oddly similar to Julian Casablancas’, though he mumbles a lot more and the music is nearly as infectious and passionate —minus the distortion — as his other group’s tunes.

So, if the music’s not that far off from what he plays in his day job, why’s he releasing his own batch of tunes? “We had a lot of time off with The Strokes,” he says. (The fivesome’s last album was released in 2006.) “And I couldn’t wait around any longer.”

After a year and a half of writing, he found himself with an album. But after all that work, it’s unlikely he will have a lot of time to promote it — The Strokes are finally going back into the studio in February. Nickel Eye’s not upset though, for him The Strokes is still his top priority. “I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, I definitely want to be in this band. When you’re on tour for so long everything becomes the same. We just needed to regroup.”

Nickel Eye plays:

• Toronto: The El Mocambo Jan. 20/09

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