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Florida-Georgia Line say Nelly collaboration has given them new audience

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TORONTO - Florida-Georgia Line have a platinum-selling album and several party-tipping hit singles to their name, but to some fans — particularly those residing outside their country wheelhouse — the genre-melding duo is best-known for rapper Nelly's remix of their smash hit "Cruise."

In fact, the southern-bred pair says the revised tune has opened their music up to a new audience.

"The fans, you see a lot of different ages and a lot of different colours even," said Brian Kelley during a brief promotional stop in Toronto this week. "You've got tons of different people coming to our shows. That's what it's all about man. We want everybody. Come party with us. Seriously."

The collaboration came about, they explain, because Nelly — the St. Louis pop-rapper behind early '00s hits "Country Grammar," "Hot in Herre" and "Dilemma" — was a labelmate who showed interest in working together.

His spin on the freewheeling tune has amassed nearly 29 million YouTube views — in addition to the roughly 42 million racked up by the original — as well as an American Music Award.

"Nelly's a country boy," said the band's Tyler Hubbard, who added that the unlikely group would be re-uniting for some concerts this summer. "He was a big fan of what we were doing and we've been big fans of him forever. ... We were honoured and pumped about it.

"He's become one of our really good friends and someone we really look up to," he added.

If the song was an unlikely success, it's only the latest for a pair who didn't expect to find themselves in the upper reaches of the chart so quickly.

They met as students at Nashville's Belmont University. Songwriters by heart, they began collaborating on a series of EPs, one of which — "2010's "Anything Like Me" — featured a song that would eventually be performed by Jason Aldean, with whom they're now touring.

Once they hooked up with Canadian producer Joey Moi, they further refined their sound for another EP and, eventually, 2011's sudsy "Here's to the Good Times."

They speak glowingly now of the influence the Tumbler Ridge, B.C., native had on their music.

"He has done an amazing job of taking our dreams and visions and creating this epic sound," Kelley said.

Their sole full length release has churned out three singles that topped the Canadian country chart in addition to "Cruise," which has been certified six-times platinum in the U.S. They're launching a tour of Western Canada on April 9 in Abbotsford, B.C., with eight dates total planned.

The duo has also carved out enough time to write a set of tunes for a second album that they plan to record in March — "we're ready to let Joey Moi do his thing and bring them to life and get 'em out there," says Hubbard.

They might even allow a preview of the new material to those Western audiences in April, if they "have a few too many drinks one night," Kelley jokes.

Life has changed dramatically over the past couple years, a blur of touring and press obligations (though they did both manage to recently buy houses in Nashville, relying mainly on the Internet to do so).

After paying their dues as songwriters, they're not about to complain about the increased workload.

"If we can make it through what we did to get here, this is easy now," Kelley said. "It was a lot of hard work, we're busy as hell and there's a lot expected of us, but it's awesome. We made it through starting this thing and making it through the toil.

"There were literally nights where I didn't know if we were going to live, with our guitar player driving us through the night. To be here, it's a blessing. It really opens your eyes and brings you down and you see things a little more clear, in a weird way."

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